GUWAHATI: The freezing cold of Shillong was preferable to this heatwave of tension.
Insecure about influx of foreigners and “outsiders” into Meghalaya, the youth resorted to violence over the week. Three persons were killed and several others wounded.
The buzzword in Meghalaya is ILP or Inner Line Permit. A vestige of the Raj era, ILP has other uses in the current political scenario. While areas in the Northeast falling under the Sixth Schedule of Constitution and states with ILP regimes are exempted from the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), some organisations, including the influential Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), felt the hill state is still unsafe.
The trouble is that the latest chapter of violence is between some tribals and some non-tribals, lending it a communal tone. The non-tribals, particularly those residing in Shillong areas, include third and fourth generation Bengalis, Assamese, Biharis, Marwaris, Sikhs et al.
For the tribals, the amended citizenship law poses questions of demographic security. To assuage the protestors of CAA, the Centre introduced ILP in Manipur on the New Year. Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are also covered by ILP. Meghalaya wants it must also have the additional safeguard. ILP is a travel document which a non-native is required to carry while s/he is traveling to any of state where it has been enforced. It permits stay for a limited period.
The demand for ILP in Meghalaya got intensified after the Centre had come up with CAA. In the wake of widespread protests against it, the Conrad Sangma Cabinet had adopted a resolution unanimously on the introduction of ILP in the state. The resolution was subsequently passed in the Assembly. However, it has not yet received the Centre’s nod.
ILP means a lot to the tribals in Meghalaya given the pressure on their economy among others and this was evident when hundreds of them were waiting outside the Assembly with bated breath the day it was being discussed in the House.
Retired bureaucrat Toki Blah said the violence was the result of increasing anxiety among the locals over CAA.
“The violence started at a meeting convened to discuss CAA. It was not the result of pent up anger but growing anxiety. People are apprehensive about CAA. They are not happy as ILP has not been also given to the state,” Blah told this newspaper.
He said it would take a lot of political wisdom to solve the problem stating “The Centre has to sit down and talk to people to find a solution”.
Meghalaya was once a part of Assam and Shillong was its capital. The non-tribal settlement dates back to late 19th century when the British had arrived. There has also been a steady migration of outsiders to the state in the past few decades. They came to do business and work in the state’s coalmines, limestone quarries etc.