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Beer bottles turn weapon of choice for Meghalaya student protesters

Protests in the Khasi Hills has seen Molotov cocktails made from beer bottles used in cases of arson

india Updated: Jun 02, 2017 15:45 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Meghalaya,molotov cocktails,firebombs
Representational image of a Molotov cocktail(Shutterstock image)

Guwahati: There aren’t too many stones to throw in Meghalaya where megaliths – huge slabs of rocks – are intrinsic to tribal culture.

So, unlike their counterparts in Kashmir, protesters in the north-eastern hill state have turned the ubiquitous beer bottle into a blazing, disruptive weapon.

Since May 28, members of a students’ organisation have allegedly been terrorising the Khasi Hills districts of Meghalaya, including capital Shillong, with Molotov cocktails — firebombs — made from beer bottles.

Officials say the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) opposition to a railway project at Byrnihat in the state’s Ri-Bhoi district has triggered the violence. The KSU believes the railways will bring unwanted immigrants to the state.

Firebombs have damaged several shops, houses of non-tribal people, vehicles and a Youth Congress office. The loss is estimated to be of at least Rs 12-crore.

KSU protestors set earth movers for the railway project on fire before going on rampage elsewhere. A bit of stone-pelting on vehicles gave way to the Molotov cocktails, injuring many including four police personnel.

On Thursday, Shillong witnessed at least five attacks that damaged a police-requisitioned bus and a vehicle owned by a non-tribal trader.

The police have raided several houses in search of KSU leaders. Powell Sohkhlet, a local journalist, said his house too was raided before dawn on Thursday. “What is happening, Mr Chief Minister... This is not Kashmir...” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“Only houses of wanted KSU members were raided. We are not aware if he (Sohkhlet) is living with KSU members,” city superintendent of police Vivek Syiem told HT from Shillong.

Ri-Bhoi deputy commissioner CP Gotmare said local people have no issues with the railway project in his district. “The people of Ronghona, where the railhead is coming up, have welcomed the project and are angry with the KSU for making it a violent issue,” he said.

The villagers also complained that KSU members damaged their property, he added.

The KSU too seems to be divided on the turn their campaign has taken. The Ri-Bhoi district unit members of the organisation have accused their counterparts from outside the district of starting the firebombing trend.

“They (local unit of KSU) have given a written statement to the authorities that they will henceforth route all railway-related matters through the district administration and will maintain peace on the matter,” Gotmare said.

But the warring section of KSU has said it will continue to oppose the project. “We are concerned that the state government is favouring earliest completion of the railway project without a thought to setting up entry and exit points to tackle illegal immigrants,” Lambok Rymbai, a union leader, said.

The railways’ bid to enter Meghalaya, particularly the eastern half inhabited by the matrilineal Khasis, has been facing opposition for decades. The resistance in the western half dominated by the Garo tribe has been minimal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated the first railway station at Mendipathar in the Garo Hills on November 30, 2014.

First Published: Jun 02, 2017 15:44 IST