Friday, May 24, 2024

Khasi victimhood: Is it based on facts?


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By Bhogtoram Mawroh

As of the writing of this article, no arrest has been made for the killing of a daily wage labourer at Mawlai Mawroh. I am not trying to be cynical here, but I don’t see any arrest happening before the voting is over. The government might fear that if the people arrested were to belong to a pressure group or even some local boys, this could create an anti-government sentiment in the local populace, which could play a decisive role in the voting that is going to take place in a few days. But why would taking action against a heinous crime be something that should have such huge political implications? The answer lies in the ‘Khasi victimhood’ mentality that is rife among a large section of the Khasi populace, which claims that the law is harsher on the local indigenous population but more lenient on the non-indigenous population. That sentiment is very widespread, and it can be observed in everyday conversation.
The night after the killing of a daily wage labourer, there was a video circulating of Brighstarwell Marbaniang, the MLA of Mawlai, who was seen stating in a public meeting that when unsavoury elements chant Jai Shree Ram in front of churches with the intention to create mischief, they are never apprehended. But when someone shouts Ha U Prah, the administration is quick to arrest them. The particular incident mentioned by Brightstarwell was a VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) rally held on April 2, 2023. In this rally, a group of people in two-wheelers, cars, and buses stopped outside Laban Presbyterian Church around 1 p.m. when the church was having its service and chanted slogans like “Jai Sree Ram.” It is also claimed that passersby also heard people who were part of the rally shouting that they would turn “Meghalaya into a Hindu State, and the situation of Gujarat riots will take place in Meghalaya soon.” These kinds of scenes and reports on them are quite common in the mainland, where such groups are known to go to minority areas, like those of Muslims, with the intention of instigating trouble. Other minority groups are also targeted during such occasions. For example, in September 2020, there was news from Jharkhand that indigenous tribal Christians were beaten and forced to chant “Jai Sree Ram.” Brightstarwell claims that no one was arrested for making this provocation. I cannot verify that claim, but I believe him. But, conveniently, he seems to omit the many instances when local pressure groups have also created disturbances in the state and little or no action is taken against them.
In his 2023 article, ‘Meghalaya: Does Police use ‘brutal force’ as often as Opposition claims?’ Larry Sohtun questioned whether the opposition’s attack on the government regarding police brutality in the last autumn session of the Meghalaya Assembly was justified. According to him, the data stands in stark contrast to the claims of police insensitivity. A starred question to the Home Department (Police) revealed that in the last year, there have been 33 violations of CrPC Section 144, with three turning violent and warranting police intervention. This reveals, according to Larry Sohtun, an alarming pattern where certain groups seem to hold sway, effectively handcuffing the police from performing their duty. Were the people who violated CrPC Section 144 and engaged in violence arrested and prosecuted? I don’t know, but I think we all can guess the answer to that question. Though the video clip of Brightstarwell claiming partiality in treatment was only a few minutes long, I am not sure he mentioned these instances as well. But maybe if someone has the entire video, they can upload it, and we can verify if my assumption is wrong. So if ‘Khasi victimhood’ is because of the VHP incident, I feel it is misplaced as the administration does not take action even when local groups are the ones who foment trouble in the state. However, is the rally by VHP the source of ‘Khasi victimhood’? Not entirely.
Another ‘Khasi victimhood’ trope is regarding the killing of Lurshai Hynniewta in Ichamati during the anti-CAA protest. There is a widespread feeling that his killers have not been brought to justice even after more than four years have passed. Actually, after the killing and the resultant violence, 24 people were arrested and around 70 were charged. The main accused, from what I remember from newspaper reports, however, had fled to Bangladesh. Unless the Indian government has an extradition treaty, it will be difficult to apprehend him. Also I am not sure that those arrested have been convicted of the murder of Lurshai Hynniewta, which could mean that his killers have not been brought to justice. So, yes, there is a travesty of justice for Lurshai Hynniewta and his family. But has there been justice for Uphas Uddin, who was killed in Shella after the violence broke out? What about Akash Ali, Ajay Kuri, Rikesh Das, Satya Modak, Deepak Kumar, Pradeep Kuri, Aman Kr Shah, Jadur Choudhury, and Rupsang Dewan, who were stabbed in Shillong, with the last one dying from his wounds? In 2013, three people were burnt alive in Shillong after miscreants hurled petrol bombs at three shops in Motphran, Bishnupur, and Police Bazar during protests over the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP). Have the people responsible for these crimes been arrested and prosecuted? If anyone has been prosecuted for all the other murders, someone can write a rejoinder that there is no failure of justice, and I will apologize and take back my article. But till then, it seems clear that denial of justice is not just for Lurshai Hynniewta but for Uphas Uddin, Rupsang Dewan, and many others. So, where is this ‘Khasi victimhood’ coming from?
A recent opinion poll conducted by 4Front Media in Pynursla showed people’s disillusionment with the whole Jaidbynriew claim. According to some of the people interviewed, everyone claims to love the Jaidbynriew, but when it comes to serving the people, they are nowhere to be found. Some lamented that the poor are always neglected, with the ‘High Level’ people only interested in furthering their own personal gains. ‘High Level’ is a pejorative term used for people in power who are engaged in corruption and amassing wealth at the expense of common citizens. Most of the time, they are associated with the coal mafia.
The insidious impact of this group was felt in 2015 when Sub-Inspector Pearlystone Joshua Marbaniang died of suicide after he seized 32 illegal coal-laden trucks in Patharkhmah, Ri-Bhoi. Granville Hardy Passah, the Block Development Officer of Jirang in Ri-Bhoi district, and four others were arrested for abetting the suicide. The other four were Centerwell Doloi, a Sordar (headman) of Sohkyrbam-Domphlang village; Federation of Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo People (FKJGP) president-in-charge (western zone) Shemphang Nongtri; FKJGP member Lawyer Syngkli; and contractor Comingstar Kharbani. All these names belong to members of the indigenous community, which means that the people who are exploiting the local indigenous population are from their own community. The case of Pearlystone Joshua Marbaniang is quite personal for me because he was my immediate senior at the university. I didn’t talk to him much, but I remember him walking through the corridor and taking part in games held at the university. His death is a personal loss.
There are a lot of complaints about widespread corruption and the denial of basic services to the common citizens in the state. When one looks at those who control the government and make all the decisions, barring a couple, they all belong to the indigenous communities of the state. So, if there is someone who has to be blamed for turning Meghalaya into one of the poorest states in the country, the blame lies with the indigenous communities themselves. But the perception on the ground and the hatred towards the non-indigenous community appears to suggest that there is a deliberate attempt to pin the blame on an easy target. For many years, there has been a persistent attempt to demand ILP in the state, citing increased immigration into the state. However, the data does not support such a claim. The Census reports have clearly shown that the non-tribal/non-indigenous population of the state has declined from 19.52% in 1971 to 13.85% in 2011. Shillong City has been the epicenter of the claims of increasing immigration, but here as well, the data does not support such a claim. The population of indigenous communities in the Shillong Urban Agglomeration has also increased from 42% in 1971 to more than 60% in 2011. So, where is the fear of being swamped by immigrants, which fuels this hatred, coming from? It is important to remember that the violence against the non-indigenous population in the state predates the CAA, which does pose a genuine threat.
The ‘Khasi victimhood’ appears to be a false one, especially when it is used to target the non-indigenous population. Instead, it is fuelled by a fear that is unfounded and seems to have been planted to blind people from the looting that is taking place, perpetrated by the members of their own community. This allows Jaidbynriew politics to stay alive and enables people to build political careers based on claims of being the protectors of the community. When Brightstarwell talks about the partiality of the administration in relation to the action taken against those who support the VPP as compared to the lack of action taken against the VHP members, it emerges from that ‘Khasi victimhood’ mentality where, despite being the majority, the local indigenous population is always the victim.
But in fairness, it is also to be acknowledged that among all the parties in the fray, the VPP are the only ones (barring the government and the BJP) who have condemned the violence in Ichamati and Mawlai Mawroh. They were also in Laitumkhrah, claiming that the party was created not to harm the non-indigenous population but to fight against corruption. But they cannot deny that many of the people who support them carry that ‘Khasi victimhood’ mentality, which only deepens the divide between the communities in the state. Unless that is dismantled, their claim of bringing about clean governance and destroying corruption will always be thwarted. In the process, the common citizens of Meghalaya will continue to suffer from poor governance and live in fear and uncertainty.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect in any way his affiliation to any organisation or institution)


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