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4 Jun 2018

Shillong limps to normalcy after three tense days

Security personnel stand guard a street during curfew in Shillong on Sunday.
Security personnel stand guard a street during curfew in Shillong on Sunday.(HT Photo)
HT, Shillong: After a three-day communal conflagration threw life out of gear, the Meghalaya capital limped to normalcy on Sunday with the district administration relaxing curfew for seven hours while a Sikh delegation from Delhi took stock of the situation in the town.

Shillong Municipal Board employees were pressed into service to clean up the debris in the riot zone since morning following which vegetable and fruit vendors set up their temporary stalls to sell their produce after the administration relaxed curfew from 8am to 3pm to allow people to stock up on essentials.

Grocery stores too opened to enable people to purchase essential commodities. Motphran locality, where the clashes started, bustled with urgency as people rushed to buy whatever they could for the kitchen and home.


Fruits and vegetable vendors setting up their temproary stalls at Motphran on Sunday mornng after curfew was relaxed for 7 hours. (HT Photo)
Efforts were also underway to quell rumours and social media outbursts about Sikhs in Shillong being under threat. A Sikh delegation from Delhi reached the town to take stock of the situation and implored people across the country to not fall prey to such reports.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, general secretary of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and national general secretary of Shiromani Akali Dal and others from the team visited the troubled area and interacted with several families residing in the Them Metor locality.

“There are vested interests from outside the country who are trying to create this problem. There is a little trouble no doubt but the Sikhs here are safe and secure and the state government is doing everything to ensure that,” Sirsa told HT.

Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju also tweeted: “Beware of rumour mongers and trouble makers. There was no damage to any Gurudwara or other institutions belonging to the Sikh minority in Meghalaya”.
Shillong Municipal Board employees cleaning up the debris at Motphran on Sunday mornng after curfew was relaxed for 7 hours. (HT Photo)
Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma said, “The problem is very much in a particular locality, on a particular issue. It just happened that two particular communities were involved, but it’s not a communal thing.”

Trouble began on May 31 morning in Motphran, a commercial centre close to Them Metor where the Sikhs live after a driver parked a public bus near a water tap and went for tea, leaving behind his two sons and a nephew in the vehicle.


Shillong Municipal Board employees cleaning up the debris at Motphran on Sunday mornng after curfew was relaxed for 7 hours. (HT Photo)
A group wanting the bus to be moved accosted the boys and assaulted them when they couldn’t shift the vehicle following an altercation. One boy was injured and had to be taken to hospital. Later in the evening, a group of bus drivers converged at Motphran for a retaliatory attack which soon snowballed into arson.

Police stepped in to control the situation but matters only became further aggravated, prompting the East Khasi Hills Deputy Commissioner Peter S Dkhar to promulgate curfew in 14 localities.

This further infuriated the public and the mob began to swell, leading to stone pelting and attacks by catapults on security personnel who used tear gas and flash bangs to contain the aggressive mob.

Initially six companies of the 67th Battalion CRPF assisted Meghalaya Police in trying to maintain order before another six companies were dispatched by the Union home ministry.

They reached Shillong on Saturday. The Army too conducted a Flag March on Friday night to try and restore normalcy in the troubled areas.

The Them Metor area is home to many Sikh families who have been engaged in manual scavenging since the British period. A sizeable number are employees of the Shillong Municipal Board.

Over the years the population has increased, leading to frequent differences of opinion with the local populace, who feel that they are encroaching the land. Though the area falls under the Shillong Cantonment Board, land rights are vested with the Mylliem Syiemship (traditional chieftain).

Other than lease documents issued to the community for a gurdwara and a school, the rest have no legal right to inhabit the area. Successive governments have tried in vain to relocate them to other parts of the city.

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