The season of Cherry Blossoms in Meghalaya started on a jarring note as the news about about the loss of lives at Mukroh filtered in. As usual the state capital received a jolt out of the blue from the violent protests. November 24 was marked by violent agitations and many unreported cases of assault. Why are the District Administration and Police so incompetent in dealing with such situations? Surely it is not the first time that such mayhem has erupted in the city. How many more such incidents need to occur before the concerned authorities really give the matter a serious thought?
Although we have accustomed ourselves to all such incidents in the heart of the city, the occurrences of November 24 are frightening to say the least. Why was Civil Hospital stormed? A close friend of mine informed that his uncle was assaulted by masked goons near Laban. A group of hooligans had started to vandalize a few shops near Bishnupur. Also, a high- ranking customs official was assaulted at IGP and is now critical. Will the State Government compensate the losses or will the victims have to knock the doors at Delhi to get the money? Perhaps the attackers have little brains to think of what would happen if an official from Meghalaya gets the same treatment in another state. A few days later, a petrol bomb was hurled at the house of a non-tribal at Mawbah.
A state should be governed by law and order but it seems that we are at the mercy of a few petrol bomb engineers. The Police Department should know that excuses like “exercising restraint” will not help to hide their incompetence. The Chief Minister of the state must also realize that appealing for peace just through social media posts will bring no change. He must have the courage to take decisive decisions to prevent further deterioration of law and order.
Wanted a dignified protest
The macabre incident where five villagers at Mukroh (an area within Meghalaya) were massacred by rogue policemen and forest guards of Assam is a despicable act that deserves the sharpest condemnation and warrants strongest action against the perpetrators. Our thoughts and prayers are with the grieving families -including that of the forest guard of Assam- and also to those grievously injured in this incident. It is clear to all that this is a criminal act perpetrated by the Assam police and forest personnel- a fact admitted by Mr Himanta Biswas Sarma, the Chief Minister of Assam. Mr Sarma has not made any attempt to camouflage the incident to protect the guilty officials from his State. Rather he has taken immediate action and suspended/transferred the involved officials so that they do not tamper with evidence as well as calling for an independent inquiry. These actions by the Assam government provide an opportunity for a thorough and impartial investigation of the death of all six individuals, leading to identification and punishment of the culprits. This outcome is a top priority for Meghalaya to ensure speedy justice for the affected families and also for Assam to send a loud signal that such misadventure by its officials, which seem to be a common phenomenon in the border areas, would not be tolerated and go unpunished.
Another matter that deserves equal attention is the economic security and welfare of the affected families who have not only lost their loved ones but also their adult earning members. In a rural family, the loss of an adult male member could plunge a family into deep distress as he provides both economic and social security. While the monetary compensation announced by the State government will help the affected families in the interim, more needs to be done to ensure a secured source of income for the families in the long run. Further, since villagers in the border areas have highlighted the constant harassment faced by them from Assam, the state government must undertake confidence building measures to secure the life and livelihood of its citizens.
It is natural that when an incident like this happens, the affected community would react to express their anguish. The candlelight vigil called by NGOs/pressure groups of the state in the aftermath of the firing was a dignified way for us to mourn the loss of innocent lives, show our support to the grieving families and express our outrage at what has happened. However, the violence that followed in which so-called miscreants unleashed mayhem and attacked unsuspecting passers-by and police personnel is unacceptable. Such senseless and heinous reactions, including the burning of a vehicle of Assam, will not in any way contribute to securing justice for the families. Rather they are likely to overshadow that original incident and provide the guilty Assam personnel undeserved sympathy. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident but a continuation of the racist attacks unleashed on other communities following such public gatherings. It is a sad commentary on the state of moral values and ethics of the indigenous community and reflects the collective failure of the family and society to guide our young people.
Through this column, I appeal to the indigenous youth of Meghalaya to come together and lead a principled struggle to secure justice for the families of those killed in Mukroh, but to do so in a dignified non-violent manner with truth on our side. I also call upon the elders of my community and our social institutions to play a more direct role in guiding our young people who are clearly frustrated with the ineptitude handling of economic and social crises facing our state.
Shillong must uphold its cosmopolitan culture
I write to express my condolences for the lives of innocent villagers lost needlessly in the Mukroh incident — but also to raise a concern and a question. My concern is about the needless and misdirected violence perpetrated in the aftermath of this tragedy. To quote Gandhiji, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Whether burning effigies or attacking innocent non-tribals, none of this violence is justified. None of it resolves the issue at stake.
My question has to do with the ethnocentric nature of these protests. Certainly injustice should be protested and Meghalayan lives should matter. But are all Meghalayan lives equal? What if the lives lost in Mukroh were those of non-tribals? Would Shillong have seen any of this agitation? When will the indigenous communities of the Northeast embrace true cosmopolitanism and discover their shared humanity?