Nothing Communal in the Sit-In Protest
By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
Violence is the dreaded tool kit not just to silence critics, but also to subjugate an entire community to perpetual servility. The contemporary examples of such violent subjugation can be drawn from West Papua whereby the indigenous peoples’ cry for self-determination is being met with violent military atrocities perpetrated by the Indonesian Army. For nearly two hundred years the indigenous community here in the Hynniewtrep Land also must have faced the same fate at the hands of the British Empire. However, available literature like u Nongїalam Khristan (1902-1937) showed us a different picture – that the British were good masters, unlike other writings which opined that the British, especially the Christian Missionaries were solely responsible for eroding the culture and diminished the indigenous faith following. Today, as we celebrate the 72nd Republic Day we also witness the atrocities against religious minorities like Christians and Muslims, Tribals, Dalits and the poor in different parts of the country. Not to speak of the illegal incarceration of intellectuals, political dissenters and the imposition of draconian laws like AFSPA in the North East, UAPA and Sedition.
The recent sit-in protest by the elderly couple in the city to protest against the rising crime of physical violence on shop keepers, labourers etc., had generated reactions from known quarters. What is deplorable are the statements made by a few public representatives- Dear sirs, I do not buy your irresponsible and immature statements and there are many like me who will never entertain your pointless arguments. I did visit the protest site on Sunday very early before I went to Church and for a while I engaged with a few protestors, including the couple and also expressed my solidarity. No doubt, there were posters around which had numbers written on them and one may easily decipher that those numbers were a reference to those years and events where there had been violent fights between groups of different communities in Shillong. For example, there was a poster which had 1979 written on it and at the same time we cannot supress the fact that in 1979 there were violent clashes in different parts of the city and unfortunately many innocent people were injured, many lost their homes and belongings and even their lives. In fact, as a society we had left the past behind and had moved on.
What the couple did was the least that they can do within the framework of the Constitution to convey their angst and desire for a just and peaceful Meghalaya. And I can say that there is nothing communal in it, unless we wish to see it that way. The rise of violence and crimes in the city are matters of great concern and this has to be addressed and confronted from all fronts, politically, socially and legally. Of course, the law enforcers have to be swift in their actions and also the judicial process of conviction has to be time bound in specific cases.
On the political front we have to be mature and honest enough to decry violence and exploitation. Also, as citizens we should no longer fall prey to the double-speak of our politicos. For long these politicos have been using/abusing communal politics towards their own gain and have been double speaking on delicate matters like communal clashes to meet their own selfish ends, but not realising that they are endangering the lives of many. On the social front, one may not find so much fault on the common people as there is an element of fear which has seeped in and been internalized through decades. There are many upright and honest people in the society who do not subscribe to violence as a mechanism to defend and preserve one’s racial identity, however they are afraid to stand up for fear of repercussions from criminal elements who take advantage of the volatile situation. On the other hand, the silence is not always good. At times we need to rise above communal or parochial mindsets and call out the perpetrators.
The honourable representatives or others may have argued against the sit-in protest as they apprehend a communal backlash. Perhaps, in the first instant the violence of stabbing which had happened recently is a case of isolated crime and has to be addressed according to the law of the land. But there is also a context to it that one needs to understand and engage with. Frequently, there are instances of “targeted violence”, on residents whom we consider as the “others”, by unknown ‘miscreants.’ Thus comes the role of the society and the law to identity who these “unknown miscreants” are who roam around freely in the city and commit such heinous crimes? Are they tribals or non-tribals who want to disturb the peace or a mixed group or members of an organized gang who earn a living by killing people? The society must call out these “unknown miscreants,” and in a close-knit society or a city of the size of Shillong it is not difficult to know who these elements are. How weak is the police intelligence or the law that they are unable to nab nor prosecute these “unknown miscreants” who have been putting the lives of residents, both indigenous and non-indigenous, in danger for so long?
Violence is exploitation and the powerful will always use violence to supress and exploit the weak. In an era of neo- liberalism the worst form of violence is economic exploitation and to achieve economic control the people or community in power will not hesitate to use political and physical violence against anyone, including their own, who stand in the way. Remember, economic exploitation or economic violence has no communal colour and it is between the exploiters who control the economic means and the exploited or the slaves. Therefore, there was no community group which stood up when the Khasi residents of Umsawli (NST) were evicted from their lands, except Agnes Kharshїing who was punished for the same and went to jail.
I have witnessed first-hand how the rich or powerful Khasi grabs the land of a poor Khasi and when the poor Khasi goes to the community or “Shnong” leaders with papers and documents to reclaim their land they pay no heed to the cry of the poor Khasi because it involves the rich and powerful tribals. The matter becomes worse as the poor Khasi cannot afford litigation and will eventually lose the hard-earned property. Again, a Khasi pregnant woman was pointed a gun against her for no reason by her affluent Khasi male neighbour, but when she tried to talk and seek solace from other neighbours, they turned their backs on her while they hugged and talked good about the gunner. In fact, there are similar stories of exploitation and violence being perpetrated by rich tribals on poor tribals. Therefore, such violence has to be condemned and the poor should be protected at any cost.
It is also to be mentioned how unemployed educated tribal and non-tribal youth are being cheated left and right by people in power who promised them better jobs and a bright future. But Meghalaya has degenerated into the lowest form of governance in which for a grade IV job one has to exchange hands and there is a systemic failure in job recruitment and appointments. Apparently, there is also a job for sex which is prevalent. Aren’t such violence of the worst kind against our youths and the people that our representatives should be bothering about?
Violence is a crime against God and there can be no peace if justice is not given. As a Khasi tribal I will not change my tribality and will continue to stand against any majoritarian forces that may try to annihilate the tribal rights and tribal way of life. At the same time as a member of a tribal majority in the State it is my bounden duty to engage with diverse communities and also to stand up when they are being exploited and treated with violence. I also want my community to progress but not through violence and exploitation of the weak. Truth and reconciliation based on justice is the only way forward.
Violence is always destructive and S.J Samartha aptly penned the lamentation of Pharaoh’s daughter against violence saying,
“(Moses) without you there would have been no exodus/And no ten commandments/Now tell me Moses/ In order to liberate your people/ Was it necessary to kill/ All our firstborn baby boys/ Including my own?”