The Meghalaya Land Record and Survey Department on Wednesday began an exercise to survey the land of settlers in Punjabi Lane, a locality at the centre of a communal flare-up in State capital Shillong since May 31.
The survey was initiated in accordance with the recommendation of the high-level committee that the government had formed to look into the demand of local pressure groups to relocate the inhabitants of the lane, also known as Harijan Colony or Sweepers’ Lane.
Protests by the women of the locality — officially called Them Iew Mawlong — greeted the survey team, while Sikh leaders of the area stayed away from the exercise. “We are not clear about what triggered the protest. We hope to complete the exercise by Thursday,” P.S. Dkhar, Deputy Commissioner of East Khasi Hills district, said.
“Neither the members of the local gurdwara committee nor I took part in it. One of the reasons is the death of my wife,” Billu Singh, head of Punjabi Lane’s Panchayat committee, said.
Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, who heads the seven-member high-level committee, said the survey data would be crucial to resolve the long-pending issue of shifting the Harijan Colony from Iewduh or Bara Bazaar, the commercial hub of Shillong.
“The idea behind the survey is to properly demarcate the land belonging to the Shillong Municipal Board and to the Syiem (Khasi king) of Mylliem (the Syiem’s realm that covers large swathes of present-day Shillong). The settlers in the area are spread across the land belonging to both SMB and the Syiem,” Mr. Tynsong told The Hindu .
Gurjit Singh, general secretary of Punjabi Lane’s Gurdwara Committee, said the Dalit or Mazhabi Sikhs have been living there since 1853 when the British brought them as soldiers or sanitation workers. “This used to be a wasteland owned by the Khasi royalty, who made an agreement with the British rulers and donated the land for our ancestors to stay. This is our land and we are not going anywhere,” Mr. Singh said.
Residents say real estate dealers and local leaders have been conspiring to eject them and build a shopping complex on the land.