Army stages flag march in restive Shillong, curfew clamped in entire city

Without taking names, Meghalaya CM said on Monday that the state government had the names of people who were providing money and expensive alcohol to the agitators to unleash violence.
Shillong securitymen  guard a street during curfew on Saturday, 02 June 2018. (PTI file photo)
Shillong securitymen guard a street during curfew on Saturday, 02 June 2018. (PTI file photo)

GUWAHATI: The Army on Monday staged a flag march in Meghalaya capital Shillong which has remained on the boil for past few days following an incident of group clash involving locals and Dalit Sikhs even as Chief Minister Conrad Sangma alleged the ongoing violence was being sponsored by elements.

Without taking names, Sangma said on Monday that the state government had the names of people who were providing money and expensive alcohol to the agitators to unleash violence. 

An indefinite curfew has been in force at 14 localities of the city. In rest of the picturesque hill station, it has been enforced from 4 pm and 5 am from Monday, officials said. Internet services have also remained suspended for the past few days.

The Centre on Monday decided to dispatch six companies of central paramilitary forces to the city which is a tourists’ attraction. The state’s Director General of Police, SB Singh, told The New Indian Express that all measures were being taken to restore normalcy. 

“No untoward incident happened today (Monday). The Army staged a flag march and the Central government is sending sufficient forces (to the city),” he said. 

On a positive note, the size of the mobs is getting thinner after village chieftains and church organisations had appealed for peace. A team of Punjab government met Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and took stock of the situation. 

On Monday, the protestors called a rally near Umsohsun. However, the authorities foiled it by enforcing the curfew in the entire city. Some 150-200 people, who had turned up, later marched to the secretariat. They pelted stones targeting the building and attempted to remove a barricade. However, the security personnel deployed at the site dispersed them in no time by firing tear gas shells.

On Sunday night, a group of some 400 protesters had unleashed a stone attack targeting a CRPF camp near Mowlai Bridge. Defence sources said mobs had been carrying out sporadic incidents of violence from 8 pm to 10 pm for the past few days.

The group clash had taken place on May 31 at Them Metor, also known as Punjabi Line or Harijan Colony, between a group of local bus drivers and Dalit Sikh residents.

There are two narratives to the incident. According to one, it was triggered by eve-teasing involving Sikh women. According to another, some buses had blocked the way of the Sikh women who were going to fetch water and this led to an argument between them and a group of local bus drivers. Soon, the Sikh residents got involved and they allegedly beat up a handyman (bus assistant). 

Later in the evening, as rumours spread through the social media that the handyman succumbed to injuries, a mob, comprising hundreds of people, swarmed to the area leading to its pitched battle with the police. Some ten people were injured in the incident. 

Meanwhile, a few hundred non-locals, mostly Sikhs, have continued to take shelter at an Army cantonment in the wake of the violence. They were being provided with food by Army authorities.

Normal life continued to be affected for the fourth day on the trot. As not many commercial vehicles were plying to the city, the prices of essential commodities have shot up manifold. On Monday, potato was being sold at Rs.70 a kg at some localities. Normally, it is around Rs.25 to Rs.30. It was learnt that a lot of tourists have got stuck up in Shillong as they have not been able to settle their hotel bills in the absence of Internet services.

  • The ongoing violence is one-sided. Only local miscreants are involved in the sporadic incidents of violence. They demand the relocation of the Dalit Sikhs to city outskirts

  • Curfew has been clamped in entire Shillong with relaxation from 5 am to 4 pm everywhere except in 14 localities. Internet services have remained suspended

  • A large number of tourists have got stuck up as they have not been able to settle hotel bills and check out in the absence of Internet services. As there is no Internet, ATMs are also non-functional

  • Various transport associations in Assam have suspended services to Shillong after Assam-registered vehicles were attacked on Sunday

  • Dalit Sikhs have their settlement at three localities – Punjabi Line, Ghora Line and Cantonment Beat House. These localities are in the heart of Shillong. Most Dalit Sikhs are engaged in the maintenance of the city’s sewage system. They include some who give the service as employees of the municipality. Their settlement dates back to the time of the British. They are settled on government land and there have been demands in the past to relocate them so that the roads in the busy localities can be expanded

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The New Indian Express