Shillong still on edge, curfew returns, Army holds flag march
The Army conducted a flag march and the Centre rushed 15 more companies of paramilitary troops to Shillong on Monday as fresh incidents of mob violence were reported from a tense city that was again placed under curfew after an eight hour-gap on Sunday.
Sparked by a dispute last Thursday between a Khasi bus driver and Dalit Sikh woman in Theme lew Mawlong, a Punjabi settlement with around 350 households, and amplified by rumours on social media and messaging platforms, the violence has exposed the rift between the two communities.
Protesters have also targeted the police and security forces trying to keep the peace in Meghalaya’s capital. Around 100 security personnel, including three Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) personnel and about 50 locals have been injured in the sporadic incidents of violence, police said. Protesters pelted stones at the CRPF camp at Mawlai, on Sunday night.
On Monday afternoon, security forces fired tear gas shells and stun grenades at a 1,000-strong crowd that was pelting stones at them near Motphran, one of the nerve centres of the clashes in the heart of the capital. With relations between the Dalit Sikhs, who moved to the state in the late 19th century, and the locals taking a turn for the worse, the latter have started reiterating a long-time demand that the former move their colony from its current location in the centre of the city to the outskirts.
In another incident on Monday, a group of protesters evaded the police and entered areas around the state secretariat, following which the army, around 200 armed soldiers from the HQ 101 Area, conducted a flag march.
Deputy commissioner of police, East Khasi Hills, Peter S Dkhar said on Monday that around 500 protesters have come to Shillong from other parts of the state. “Curfew has been imposed from 4 pm on Monday to 5 am Tuesday in Shillong as there is likelihood that breach of peace may spread to other parts of the city,” Dkhar said.
Chief minister Conrad Sangma held an all-party meeting on Monday to discuss the situation and briefed opposition leaders about the steps being taken to bring the situation under control. On Sunday, Sangma had said that the agitators were being funded by certain groups -- a statement that has been blamed for a further escalation of tensions. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has sent a team to the city to ascertain for itself, first-hand, the situation on the ground, and to protect the interests of the Dalit Sikhs.
Several local leaders and residents have expressed concern that a small incident was allowed to snowball into a major law-and-order problem by the administration.
“Promulgating a curfew is one thing, implementing it is another. Citizens remain unaware of the curfew as no proper announcements were made through available channels,” said former home minister Robert Garnett Lyngdoh.