ANANYA S GUHA
Shillong is tasting another bout of what can turn out to be a fractious long drawn conflict after almost two decades. I am referring to the embattled conflict in the very late nineties between the police and a militant outfit. Prior to that there were ethnic riots in the late seventies, the mid eighties and the early nineties. About six years back there was a horrific case of people burnt alive. The 1979 ethnic riots in Shillong is often taken as a measurable yardstick to indicate the downslide of law and order, and what is known as communal riots. But the fact is that since 1987 Shillong more than limped back to normalcy. Of course, intermittently there have also been bouts of bandhs and strikes. People however see in them potential for violence.
The very recent trouble involving the Punjabi Harijan community living in the Sweeper colony in Shillong is a reminder of the past. Or is it? There has been for sometime a conflict of interest between the local people and them, that their colony in Lewduh is in the hub of business settlement and, there have been skirmishes between them and the local community in the past.
What happened on the 31st of May was an incident over a government bus almost hitting a young lady in that area. One version. There are two more! In fact no clear version of what exactly happened has emerged, a lot of rumour mongering took place and local news reporting was shoddy. The ostensible cause of the trouble was that some minors were beaten and there was a retaliation late in the evening. This lead to police retaliation and clashes between the public and the police. The whole question is can we call this a communal incident? Was it not a localized situation ? Unlike many incidents in the past this was not a result of simmering tension generated over a period of time.
The incident was trivial and the matter was apparently settled between the two groups. That it was recycled was of course unfortunate. As it happens in a small city curfew was clamped but unlike in the past where, after any incident which triggered trouble curfew would be imposed, this time it has been declared in only parts of the city. Earlier normally curfew would be declared in at least the municipal area of the city as it had the potential to spread throughout the city and tensions were palpable. This time although night curfew has been declared in the city as a preventive measure the tension as of the time of writing this piece is not palpable throughout the city. This means perhaps that trouble can be localized and administration can attempt to douse flames in specific localities only. Earlier it would grip the entire city.
However the current political situation and its relation with quasi political groups cannot be ruled out to determine future course of events. Also, tribal and non-tribal relations are very fragile, as this recent flare up has once again evidenced. Only amicable settlement and time can be the healer and restore relationships.