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Shillong - a hilly terrain in the northeastern state of Meghalaya is today reeling under violence.
The hill town, once named 'The Scotland of the East' by the British, has been under an indefinite curfew barring a few relaxations ever since violence broke out on May 31st following a fight between Dalit Sikhs and the local Khasi people over a parking row.
The incident occurred in Punjabi Lane, locally known as the ‘Sweepers’ Colony’, an area largely inhabited by Sikh migrants from Punjab most of whom work as sanitation workers in the city.
While what happened on the day appeared to be a minor discord, matters quickly escalated later that day when an angry mob gathered around the colony with the intent of violence leading to a full-blown clash with police in which at least ten people were injured including a senior policeman.
As a result, a curfew was imposed, the army was stationed, and mobile internet services were suspended to prevent violence from flaring up again.
The ongoing tension has brought to the fore a long-standing dispute between the minority Sikhs and the indigenous Khasi people who have been pushing the Meghalaya government to relocate Sikh residents from Punjabi Lane where they have been living since British rule in India.
The Sikh residents claim their ancestors were brought to the area to carry out manual scavenging and were given the land to reside permanently in by the then local administration - a contention that was challenged by the Shillong district administration in the 1970s.
While the Sikhs managed to get a stay on the eviction order in 1986, they have since been struggling to retain their ‘homes’ amidst a growing clamour from various Khasi groups for their relocation.
And this time around, the threats seem very real.
Earlier this week, Chief Minister Conrad S Sangma announced the formation of a high-level committee to find a permanent solution to the pending issue of their relocation.
Meanwhile, concerned over the clashes, the Punjab government sent a four-member team to Shillong to diffuse tensions and assess the situation.
Earlier, a group of Shiromani Akali Dal leaders from New Delhi also visited the region in view of the tensions.
The Supreme Court of India has appointed a new Special Investigation Team (SIT), to look into 186 cases related to the November 1984 anti-Sikh violence in New Delhi. These cases had previously closed for lack of evidence.