Dalit Sikhs of Shillong pin hope on new govt formation for relocation
Representational Image

Shillong: Almost five years after violence rocked Punjabi Lane area of Shillong, Dalit Sikh residents of the area look forward to the formation of a new government for a permanent solution to their demand for relocation from the locality.

Situated in the bustling Iew Duh area, also known as Bara Bazaar, in the heart of Shillong, this nearly 200-metre lane across the contentious 3.5 acre piece of prime land wears a deserted look with most shops and a petrol pump closed as no vehicular traffic is allowed through it.

Central police force personnel guard the lane at both ends at checkpoints set up after the 2018 clashes.

Gurjit Singh, the secretary of the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC), said that 342 families live here, of whom 250 belong to the Sikh community.

“We hope for a solution to the vexed issue after a new government, either of the incumbent party or some other outfit, takes over,” he told PTI.

He rues that none of the political parties contesting the Meghalaya assembly elections, to be held on February 27, have spoken about their issue in poll campaigns.

“North Shillong, within which our area is situated, is a large constituency and with only about 1,200 votes, we may not be a significant number for them,” Singh said.

He said that a mixed voting pattern exists in the area with residents exercising their franchise for parties of their choice and not en bloc.

Singh, who is also the president of Gurudwara Nanak Durbar on Punjabi Lane, said their ancestors had come from faraway Punjab around 200 years ago and settled here.

Members of these families are at present engaged in jobs, small businesses and tourism-related occupations.

He said most of the Sikh families of Punjabi Lane are Dalits and belong to the Scheduled Caste, while some who have converted to Christianity fall in the OBC category.

He said a meeting was held with the state government in September 2022, but there was no agreement of views.

“Residents of the area met and together desired that each family be given 200 square metres of land in a single area in the European ward of Shillong for shifting out of Punjabi Lane,” Singh said.

According to Singh, local MLA Adelbert Nongrum of the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement Party seldom visited the area and there is hardly any beneficiary of government schemes in the locality.

He said barring the BJP and the Congress, no other political party has conducted any election campaigning in the area.

The BJP has fielded former police officer M Kharkrang in the North Shillong constituency, while the Congress has nominated J A Lyngdoh, who had earlier fought elections on the ticket of the saffron party.

“If elected, our party will ensure security and welfare of everyone. We will work with the residents and find an amicable solution to the issue,” Kharkrang said.

At present, however, the settlers felt strongly that the nakas put up at the two ends of the lane be lifted so that people can resume their normal life.

“With nakas at both ends, vehicles are not allowed to ply through the lane and the lone petrol pump in the area has also shut down since the 2018 violence,” Singh said.

Other residents who earlier ran small shops have also shut their commercial establishments as there is hardly any business, he said.

The Meghalaya High Court is at present ceased of a litigation between the state government and the HPC over the issue.

Singh claimed the HPC has sought time from the high court for submitting its views on a proposal made by the state government for relocation of the settlers.

In a meeting with the HPC on September 29, the state government presented a blueprint for the construction of multi-storey flats at the existing official quarters of the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) for relocation of the 342 families.

The state government had rejected the HPC’s demand that 200 square metres of land be provided to each of the 342 families while also bearing the cost of construction of their homes.

The Punjabi Lane issue cropped up soon after the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government was sworn in, in 2018 when a bus driver was allegedly attacked in the area.

After a video of the incident went viral on social media, locals, mostly youths, marched towards Punjabi Lane in large groups to “seek revenge”.

The state government rushed in security forces to stop the protesters, imposed curfew and cut off mobile internet facilities to control the situation.

It took days for peace to prevail as protesters clashed with the security forces for about a week at Motphran, only around 100 metres from where the settlers reside in Them Iew Mawlong area.

The violence died down after the state government constituted a high-level committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong to find a feasible solution for the relocation of the residents.

Locals have long been demanding that the Punjabis be relocated as the area belongs to the Mylliem Syiem (chieftain) and the settlers were given temporary residency. The attack on the bus driver aggravated the situation, forcing the government to form the HLC to consider the demand.

Help sustain honest journalism.

Based on the recommendations of the HLC submitted in September 2020, the Meghalaya government had in October last year taken over the land at Iew Mawlong after releasing a premium of Rs 2 crore to the Syiem (chieftain) of Hima Mylliem, in a bid to relocate the residents.

The three main recommendations of the High Level Committee include taking ownership of the land at Them Iew Mawlong, shifting the employees of SMB and other departments, and relocating “illegal settlers”.

As per the inventory report submitted by the SMB, a total of 184 employees and their families have been identified as legal settlers.

These include families of 128 employees of the SMB and 56 others who are working in the different government departments.

Also Read | Meghalaya: BSF arrests 3 while trying to smuggle betel leaves to Bangladesh

Trending Stories

Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment