Lawsohtun incident – No to violence

By Albert Thyrniang

The Lawsohtun incident is condemnable. Though the assault on the six non-tribal youths in a basketball court took place on July 3, that is almost a week has passed, what we have now is an FIR against the editor of this newspaper. This speaks volumes of the efficiency/inefficiency of the government and the law enforcing agencies. The culprits are nowhere to be traced. They are still at large.

The attack seems to be pre-planned. The 20 attackers had rods and sticks in their hands. Taking advantage of COVID-19 situation, they had their faces covered with masks to be unrecognised. They had reportedly locked the gate of the venue before beating up the basketball players before making good their escape.

Was the incident communal?Prima facie it looks so. All the wounded victims are from a minority community. Could the 20 assailants be from the majority community? The police will have to make the necessary arrests to determine the motive for the assault. Hope the Block VI violent episode turns out to be a “clash between two groups” with no communal angle as maintained by Lawsohtun Dorbar Shnong.

Some might have jumped the gun in adding ‘communal colour’ on Facebook posts and in live streams but the hate and intolerant reactions are totally unjustified. Social media users called for arrest of the senior journalist and Padma Shri awardee who, in her Facebook post the next day, called out the CM Meghalaya, the DGP and the Dorbar Shnong of the area to act. A local cab driver proudly displayed a poster behind his taxi demanding the arrest of the outspoken columnist who has earlier also upset some of the local pressure groups and NGOs with her acclaimed writings. Her house was even attacked in April 2018 by unidentified miscreants. Other users called for boycott of Shillong Times. Boycotting a newspaper is no solution. It points to the direction of narrow and closed-mindedness.

The Dorbar Shnong of the locality was unnerved by the referred post. To be stunned and upset is normal but to file an FIR with the allegation of inciting communal tension exhibits a mind-set of intolerance to criticism. The said post reads, “…And what about the Dorbar Shnong of the area? Don’t they have their eyes and ears to the ground? Don’t they know the criminal elements in their jurisdiction? Should they not lead the charge and identify those murderous elements? This is the time to rise above community interests, caste and creed and call out for justice.” If the dorbar is unable to take in such a simple criticism one wonders whether such persons are capable of being in a position of responsibility. No one is beyond criticism and no one is immune to it.

The police have been criticised for their impotence in solving the case. They have picked some individuals but they seem to be no more than mere suspects uninvolved in the incident. No one has been nabbed so far. Then where are the culprits? Why and how are they still roaming free? The success rate of the police in bringing criminal elements to book is not encouraging. In the aftermath of the Sweepers Colony incident arson and stone pelting were on for nights but many escaped the wrath of the law. Prominent individuals in the government alleged the youths were instigated by rival politicians. A well-known citizen of the state even hinted that the trouble makers were paid by certain ‘merchants’. We saw neither politicians nor merchants anywhere close to the law.

The Home Minister has warned those who indulge in spreading communal hatred on social media with assurance of stern action. The police too have done the same. But that is just about it. The fact remains that we have seen little action in this regard. Cyber criminals have gone scot free. Past experiences have confirmed the cluelessness in dealing with cyber crimes. Therefore, the easiest way out was to shut the internet down.

When violence of this nature happens reference to 1979 or 1987 is quite natural. Avoiding discussion on the unfortunate past and refusing conversations about the dark side of history do not help in reconciliation. That’s what the “All Lives Matter” groups in USA try to do. They do not want to be reminded of periods of slavery, apartheid and the systematic discrimination of the Blacks ever since. The non-tribal community in Meghalaya have been also suffering violent instances. Many might have been forced to leave the state. However, comparing the situation here with the exodus of Kashmiri pundits is unwarranted. According to reports Hindus of the Kashmir Valley were forced to flee the valley as they were targeted by JKLF and other Islamist militants in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is estimated that out of 300,000 to 600,000 Hindus in 1990 only 2,000–3,000 were left in the valley in 2016. January 19, 1990 is infamously remembered by Hindu pundits as the tragic “exodus day” as they were inhumanly forced out of Kashmir to take refuge in places like Delhi and Jammu. Was the situation in Meghalaya anywhere near Kashmir? Why must the Governor of the state antagonise the local population and alienate himself from the citizens of the state by his uncalled for comparison?

A section of the Bengali community in Kolkata was rightly alarmed at the Lawsohtun incident and was quick to judge it communal. Perhaps it is proper to remind them that CAB/CAA has virtually split the state of West Bengal right in the middle on the basis of religion. The State has allowed national and regional political leaders to spread venom through their rhetoric of sending back ‘illegal immigrants’ to Bangladesh thus creating divisions in the society. We have witnessed violent protests over the communal legislation in West Bengal. CAA will play a more divisive role as elections to the state legislature approaches. One section of the community is/will be harassed and threatened because of the draconian law. What have right thinking citizens to say?

On social media complaints are often made that non-tribals do not get jobs and cannot own land in the state. This must be explained as clearly as possible. Job reservation is the policy of the Government of Meghalaya and right of tribals to own land in the state is a provision in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution to safeguard and protect the tribal communities. So there is no point in carrying grievances against the tribes of Meghalaya or the North East as far as job and ownership of land is concerned.

Another common observation made is that it is the non-tribal business community that fills the coffer of the state government. While their contribution in building the state is appreciated it is also a balanced view to state that no one is independent of the state. The non-tribals are able to contribute ‘financially’ to the state through the taxes because the tribals also enter their shops and business establishments. Again, the large part of the money that the tribals pocket may come from the central government. So interdependence is the key here.

It is heartening to know that efforts by all stakeholders are on to ensure that the Lawsohtun incident does not flare up into another communal tension. At all times, but especially now when the focus is on combating the surge of COVID-19 any skirmish is least wanted.

 (The writer can be reached at [email protected])

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