Dalit Sikhs on the edge as Khasi tribal anger rises in Shillong
It was an everyday skirmish between a Khasi bus driver and a poor Dalit Punjabi woman on Thursday afternoon on the crowded street known as Punjabi lane in the most congested area of the capital of Meghalaya, Bara Bazaar. However, it took on mammoth proportions with the local Khasi tribal population gathering in the area, pelting stones and calling for the ouster of the “outsiders” occupying their land.
What happened was that a khasi driver, Skylin Roy Marbaniang, parked his bus on the crowded seat and went for a cup of tea at a nearby shop asking his 18-year-old nephew to move the wheel slowly. A Punjabi woman filling water could not pass and she objected to the bus being parked there. An argument ensued with the Khasi vendors and she, along with other Punjabis, pelted stones at the bus and the sons of the driver aged 17 and 14 received mild injuries.
The story of Dalit Sikhs moving to Shillong is an incredible one. According to a document issued in 2008 from the erstwhile Khasi royalty, “The Syiem of Mylliem and Durbar”, the ancestors of the Dalit Sikh community were already settled in Shillong. They are said to be brought by the British army to work as manual scavengers as tribals living midst fields would not do this work. The earliest settlement was in Bara Bazaar and later in a colony of army recruits in a street known as Gora Line in Laitumukhra.
The document further says: “The Syiem and Darbar Hima Mylliem never issued any land document to the Harijan community, but recognised and respected them since the plot of land was allotted to Dalits long time back by the predecessors Syiem of Hima Mylliem.” However, a gurdwara, Valmiki mandir and Guru Nanak LP School have been given valid documents.
“It has been a long struggle for the Dalits here as 95% of them are without Scheduled Caste certificates. For the past 25 years, there has been an effort to evict Dalit Sikhs from here,” says Gurjeet Singh, general secretary of the gurdwara, which is still under reconstruction.
Alarmed by the recent uprising by the local Khasis, Gurjeet adds: “The Centre should intervene as the government here has not dealt with the situation firmly. Some leaders from Punjab should raise their voices for the protection of Dalit Sikhs here.” He says that protesters set a shop of a Dalit Sikh afire here.
Though the state is claiming to have controlled the situation and peaceniks are active, yet the curfew has been extended in the affected parts. Six more companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been sent by the ministry of home affairs to tackle the situation as reportedly the directions coming from the Meghalaya cabinet continue to be mixed.
FEELING OF DÉJÀ VU
The peaceniks have been active in quelling the rumours as these have been abounding in the charged situation in the state capital. Many are wary that the situation should not return to the violent tribal agitations of the 90s. An interview with the bus driver whose son was hurt in the skirmish is being widely circulated on the social media as rumour had gone around that the teenager had succumbed to the injury.
Marbaniang has confirmed that his two children are fine and he adds: “There is no such thing as Khasi or Punjabi. We are all brothers and sisters and are created by God.”
Not only the Dalit Sikhs, but Punjabis settled in Shillong for many decades are uneasy about the situation. No one wants to be quoted but a businessman on conditions of anonymity says: “The situation is far from normal and has to be dealt with firmly yet sensitively if communal clashes are to be avoided.”
MEGHALAYA CM ASSURES SAFETY OF SIKHS
Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma called up his Punjab counterpart captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday to assure him of the safety of the Sikh community and their religious institutions in the state following communal clashes.
Sangma also assured Amarinder that there was no damage to any gurdwara or other institutions belonging to the Sikh minority in Meghalaya.
Amarinder expressed concern over the developments and hoped the situation does not escalate further, said an official spokesperson.
“The Meghalaya CM said he was personally monitoring the situation to ensure that there is no further trouble or incident that could trigger fresh tensions,” the spokesperson added.