New Delhi: On 7 October, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma announced that the state government had decided to take possession of ‘Sweeper’s Colony’ in Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area — home to at least 2,000 Dalit Sikhs since the British era.
More than 10 days on, the community is struck with fear, as the government-stipulated week-long deadline has come and gone.
Most of the residents, however, remain in disbelief that the state government would move to evict them despite the Meghalaya High Court order of a status quo in the matter.
“The people here are very scared; we don’t know why the government is going ahead with these proceedings,” said Gurjit Singh, secretary of the Harijan Panchayat Committee and a resident of Sweeper’s or Harijan Colony that is also known as Punjabi Lane.
A controversial decision
The Conrad Sangma government had back in 2018 constituted a high-level committee (HLC) following the unrest, which had been sparked by a scuffle between a local tribal resident and a Sikh woman.
On 7 October, Sangma tweeted the recommendations that had been made by the HLC. He said the panel had made a three-point recommendation.
“The process of signing the tripartite agreement & taking possession of the land by the Govt in Urban Affairs Dept from the Syiem of Mylliem has started and the whole process should be completed by next week,” the chief minister’s tweet read.
The area under question falls under the jurisdiction of the Hima Mylliem — a Syiemships or chiefdoms in the Khasi Hills — whose administrative head is the Syiem of Mylliem. Sangma added that the committee had also recommended shifting the permanent municipal employees residing in the colony to government quarters that had been constructed.
“Further, we will request the other residents residing in the colony to shift to the designated locations… Urban Affairs Dept. will explore other locations after which the govt will take a call,” he mentioned in the thread of tweets.
Gurjit Singh told ThePrint that so far, none of the residents have received notices.
“There have been no notices yet; the CM has said that within one week of the formalities of the ownership, they would start the eviction… The issue that we have is already pending in the court, and the high court; the National Commission of Minorities has also issued a notice,” Singh said.
The minorities panel had on 11 October vetoed the Meghalaya government’s decision and had sought a report on the matter, according to a report in The New Indian Express.
ThePrint repeatedly reached Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong — who led the high-level committee —over telephone and also sent him an email with queries about the status of the relocation process and if the government was willing to reconsider or halt its decision given the National Commission of Minorities’ notice.
Tynsong, on two occasions, over phone calls, said he wasn’t available to respond immediately following which ThePrint emailed its queries to him on 18 October.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who has been busy campaigning ahead of bypolls in the state, told ThePrint over phone that he will only be free to talk after 27 October.
ThePrint also reached officials of the Urban Affairs Department, which will take possession of the land, over telephone, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
Fear & anger among residents
For the residents of Sweeper’s Colony, the fear and anger is palpable.
“They are just going to throw us out… We have our families here, we have elderly people, we are living like a small village together. They call us dkhar or non-tribals. We tend to bond more with each other than bonding with them. So, the fear is still there,” said Raj Singh Nahar, a 39-year-old resident of the colony.
“We still have high hopes on the law of India, the law of this land that they will not do something wrong to us.”
According to the residents, following the 2018 incident, hostilities had increased with the local Khasi residents, which had also culminated into instances of discrimination. For instance, Nahar alleged that after the unrest, a series of taxi drivers refused to ferry his wife who was dropping their daughter to school.
Sangam Singh, a resident and HPC member, however, said that such incidents had died down and peace had prevailed in the area.
He claimed that the government has taken the decision to appease a section of voters in light of the upcoming bypolls in the state.
Bypolls have been necessitated in Mawryngkneng, Rajabala, and Mawphlang following the death of the sitting MLAs.
Mawryngkneng, and Mawphlang are situated in the East Khasi Hills and Rajabala is in the West Garo Hills district.
“Everyone is thinking that because of bypolls this decision was taken, for their vote bank,” Sangam Singh said. “He (the CM) put out videos in the media of how he will take possession in a week. But this can’t happen, we came here 200 years ago.”
The government move has garnered criticism from political leaders in other parts of the country.
According to a PTI report, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa hit out at the Meghalaya government, while saying that he will take up the matter with the union home minister.
On Thursday, a four-member delegation of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) led by its president Manjinder Singh Sirsa met Governor Satya Pal Malik seeking intervention in the situation.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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