The National Commission for Minorities deputed one of its members to visit Punjabi Lane , a prime locality in curfew-bound Shillong’s Bara Bazar business hub that saw violence between local Khasi people and Sikh community members over an eve-teasing incident nearly a week ago. Clashes in the city had begun on last Friday after a skirmish between a Khasi bus driver and a poor Dalit Punjabi woman 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. Meghalaya is regarded as a peaceful state. However, this time the government has been formed with the support of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) that has just 2 MLAs in a 60 member assembly. Though Congress now is the largest party with 21 seats.
Following the visit, the NCM member, Manjit Singh Rai, suggested against relocating the “vulnerable” Punjabi Lane residents, as was being demanded by local tribal groups. “The Sikh population has been living in the area for more than 100 years and relocating them is not feasible,” he said.
Rai heard the grievances of the residents in the wake of recent developments, including formation of a high-powered committee by the Meghalaya Government to look into the long-standing demand of some local groups for relocating the Punjabi Lane residents.
Rai said a minor altercation had taken place between the two community members, who even reached a compromise within no time. But “mischievous elements”, he claimed, circulated rumours in the social media and incited violence due to “vested interests”.
The NCM member called on Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma and discussed with him the prevailing situation as well as the relocation issue. “The Chief Minister has assured me of protection to all,” he said.Rai later met Chief Secretary Yeshi Tsering, Principal Secretary (Home) MS Rao and Director General of Police SB Singh and enquired about the security arrangements.
The Meghalaya Congress unit has, meanwhile, asked the state government to initiate a judicial inquiry into the violence as well as to peruse the demand for relocation. “A judicial inquiry will provide a clear picture about what is happening and what should be done. There will be terms of reference when the inquiry is instituted. The government, thus, will have the privilege to have an insight into all the information and act upon that,” said Dr Mukul Sangma of the Congress, also the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.