Dev N C
Shillong, Oct 24
Shillong yet again succumbs to communal fears over banners put up against the Bengali community of the state. The banners which read “All Bengalis are Bangladeshi” sent jitters across communities on the October 21. The Meghalaya Police was quick to respond to the incident and removed all the posters and sent out disciplinary and peace messages to denizens in times of festivities.
The posters were put up by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) as a mark of protest against the death of a Khasi individual in Ichamati during the Citizen (Amendment) Act protests. The border community in Ichamati (non-tribal and mostly Bengali) and KSU broke into a clash then. The narratives of the exact sequence of events of that day remain fragmented with missing voices and no clear reports. Multiple arrests have been made in that connection. The Ichamati incident has become almost a year old and has followed with other dastardly violent attacks on non-tribals. There has been public stabbing by miscreants in the city which led to the death of three non-tribal men mostly migrant labourers and traders. Two KSU leaders had been arrested in this connection.
However, the present Meghalaya home minister Lahkmen Rymbui informed the media that the reoccurrence of Ichamati incident could be due to the upcoming election in West Bengal. Multiple other Bengali groups across the Northeastern states have expressed their solidarity with Bengali community and filed complaints.
Recently, before the incident on October 21, three non -tribal persons from Ichamati and Bholaganj (both villages in border areas) filed a petition to the Governor mentioning exclusion, harassment and livelihood issues along religious and ethnic lines by the local council authorities and pressure groups. Many local leaders refute such claims. However, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) has set up an expert enquiry committee to look in the complaint filed by the three.
Notably, Meghalaya has had a troubled history with its porous borders and the issue of insider and outsider has remained the centre of political concern pre-state formation on account of large indigenous population residing in Meghalaya. Multiple ethnic clashes since the seventies have weakened the trust between tribal and non-tribal communities who have a shared history since ages. Along with that fake news and social media propaganda has convoluted history and supported such division. The ongoing incidents have left the Bengali community disheartened with their citizenship being invalidated time and again through coercive means.
It must also be noted that a group of 130 or more Khasi, Jaintia, Garo citizens have issued a statement through a webzine Raiot condemning the act and requested pressure groups, administrative and others to find democratic and inclusive ways to protect everyone’s interest. They have also demanded an independent and unbiased enquiry into Ichamati incident as well the stabbing incident that occurred in Shillong.
(Dev NC is a Development Consultant (Media, Advocacy and Research), TISS-ECI Project, Mumbai/Shillong.
The views expressed are personal.)