Other States

Four years after communal strife, Shillong’s Sikhs agree to relocate

A Sikh man with his son in Shillong. File | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

The residents of Shillong’s Harijan Colony, also known as Punjabi Lane and Them Iew Mawlong, have agreed to relocate conditionally four years after a communal flare-up associated with an eviction drive.

A majority of the residents of the 3.33-acre colony housing 342 families in two-storey hovels flanking a 300-m lane are Dalit or Mazhabi Sikhs.

Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong said the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC) representing the residents of Punjabi Lane had submitted a memorandum agreeing to relocate but with a set of conditions.

The prime condition is settling all the 342 families in one location with 200 sq. m. per family, preferably in the Meghalaya capital’s European Ward.

The Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, does not apply to the areas under the European Ward, enabling non-tribal people to buy property, including land, if a competent authority allows the transfer. Non-tribal people are not allowed to buy land in areas beyond.

The other conditions include not shifting a gurdwara, a church, two temples, a Valmiki Ashram and the Guru Nanak School from the area, letting some 60 community shopkeepers to carry on with their business and paying ₹20 lakh to each family to facilitate the relocation.

“We have instructed the Urban Affairs Department to prepare the proposals for submitting to the HPC. The government is identifying 2-3 locations for the relocation,” Mr. Tynsong said.

“We realised that we cannot fight the government forever. We have never been against relocation and we are ready to move if the government fulfils our demands,” HPC chairman Gurjit Singh said after a meeting with the State government representatives on Monday.

The next meeting between officials and the HPC leaders is likely before May 15.

Quarrel fallout

Both the parties came to the negotiation table following an order of the High Court of Meghalaya, which the HPC claimed had in a 2019 ruling established the Harijan Colony residents’ rights over their land in the commercial hub of Shillong.

The Harijan Colony was at the centre of a conflict following a quarrel between a few women and a bus driver on May 31, 2018. The exchange of words snowballed into a communal clash, with local tribal youths laying siege to the colony for a few days, forcing the authorities to clamp indefinite curfew in major parts of Shillong.

One of the reasons behind the violence was a bid to shift the colony and make room for a commercial complex. The HPC claims that the Dalit Sikhs – some of whom are employed with the Shillong Municipal Board – were settled nearly 200 years ago by the British authorities after the local chieftain gifted them a suitable plot.

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Printable version | Apr 26, 2022 1:33:12 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/four-years-after-communal-strife-shillongs-sikhs-agree-to-relocate/article65356197.ece