Guwahati: The 342 Dalit Sikh families party to the land dispute over Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area have agreed to relocate. Their decision was conveyed to the state government Monday by the Harijan Panchayat Committee, which has been representing the families.
The Them lew Mawlong area in Shillong — also known as ‘Sweepers’ Colony’, ‘Harijan Colony’ or ‘Punjabi Lane’ — is home to at least 2,000 Dalit Sikhs and falls under the jurisdiction of Hima Mylliem, the Syiem (chief) of Mylliem in East Khasi Hills.
“We are ready to move. If they decide to give us the land, we are ready to move. We had said that 200 sq m should be given to every family and Rs 20 lakh as construction cost,” Gurjit Singh, secretary of the Harijan Panchayat Committee, said Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters two days earlier, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong had talked about the Harijan Panchayat Committee’s decision to submit a memorandum to the government, agreeing to relocate.
“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,” Tynsong reportedly said following a meeting with Gurjit Singh.
ThePrint made attempts to reach Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong through phone calls Wednesday but they went unanswered.
Road to resolution
Following unrest in the area triggered by a scuffle between a local tribal and a Sikh woman in 2018, the Conrad Sangma government constituted a high-level committee to find a solution to the decades-old land dispute.
In October last year, the Meghalaya government announced that it would take possession of the disputed land in Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area, based on the recommendations of the committee.
The area in question will be used to house employees of the Shillong Municipal Board instead, CM Sangma had said.
However, the relocation encountered vehement opposition from the Harijan Panchayat Committee.
Hearing a petition by the Harijan Panchayat Committee on 9 March, a bench of the Meghalaya High Court observed that since the committee is “seeking to negotiate an alternative site for relocation and the matter is under consideration of the state, both the private appellant’s appeal and the state’s appeal should be adjourned to allow an attempt at settlement”.
Following this, two rounds of talks were held between the state government and the committee to chalk out a resolution. During the course of these negotiations, the state government offered to relocate the families to a multi-storeyed building.
This offer was rejected by all 342 families in a meeting of the committee’s general body held on 20 April.
The Harijan Panchayat Committee instead stated in its counter-proposal that “the settlers would prefer a mere allotment of an individual plot of land measuring at least 200 square metres… and an amount of Rs 20 lakh as constructing cost of each house with all essential amenities”.
The proposal adds that the allotment of land would “facilitate adequate social living to the colony with individual personal dignity”.
Also included in the proposal is a demand for the proposed site of relocation to be within Shillong’s European Ward. Elaborating on this demand, the proposal says, “We have opted for this option because of the substandard and biased behaviour of the government against the Mazhabi Sikh community settled in Harijan Colony, Bara Bazar, Shillong [sic].”
“This is outside the tribal land, here non-tribals can also buy land and stay and mutation can also take place,” Harijan Panchayat Committee’s secretary Gurjit Singh told ThePrint.
Among its other conditions, the committee stated that the sites of worship — a gurdwara, two temples, an ashram, and a church — and a school in the area should not be moved.
The Harijan Panchayat Committee has also demanded that 60 shops run by the families in Them lew Mawlong be allowed to operate and granted protection. These shops have been closed since the unrest in 2018.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)