Dalit Sikhs attacked in Shillong: Punjab govt and SGPC step in to help
Shillong has been on the edge over the last three days following reports of clashes between the local Khasi tribals and the Dalit or Mazhabi Sikhs with the latter facing security threats. The impact of the developments is being in Punjab as people stand perplexed over what led to the Mazhabi community being targeted. Is it something to do with caste, race, religion or region—factor that have come to be the mainstay of recurring strife between communities in modern day India?
Mazhabi Sikhs are Dalits who rejected the caste hierarchy of the Hinduism dominated by Brahminical forces to find refuge in Sikhism. Like Hindu Valmikis, they continue to be at the lowest rung of socio-economic strata and hence remain the most vulnerable.
There are various versions coming on what triggered off the tension between the Khasis and Mazhabi Sikhs in Shillong on Thursday evening. There are reports saying that the violence was triggered on Thursday night over an incident of eve-teasing by and subsequent assault of a person from the local community. The second version is about an altercation over the parking of a bus by a Khasi driver.
In any case, it was the social media that once again led to spiraling of rumours and subsequent violence which is still to die down. There are reports of the Sikhs being targeted as outsiders whom a section of the locals wants to leave their present settlement.
Back home in Punjab, the Captain Amarinder Singh government was quick to react following reports of security threats to the Dalit Sikhs in Shillong and on Sunday decided to rush a four-member team, headed by Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Randhawa to take stock of the situation in Meghalaya capital.
A Punjab government spokesperson said, “The team will make a ground assessment of the situation in the troubled areas of Shillong and extend all possible help to the Sikh community there. The Chief Minister has directed the team with MPs Gurjit Aujla and Ravneet Bittu along with MLA Kuldip Singh Vaid as its other members, to leave for Shillong.”
Amarinder has also sought Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s cooperation in facilitating the team’s visit and ensuring their access to the areas from where reports of tension or trouble are coming in. He has asked Sangma to provide full protection and safety for the Sikh community and their religious institutions in the state.
The spokesperson said that Amarinder's decision to send a team to Shillong was triggered by reports that despite the Meghalaya Chief Minister’s personal assurance, the situation was still not under control and had the potential of escalating further. Amarinder has offered all possible help to the Meghalaya government in ensuring the security of the Dalit Sikhs, whose ancestors were brought to Shillong during the British era. He said that if necessary, the Centre should intervene to defuse the communal tensions in which the Sikhs in Shillong are caught.
An Akali Dal delegation led by Delhi MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa and senior leader Manjit Singh GK had also visited Shillong earlier.
Reports say that the Mazhabi Sikhs had been taken to the North East by the British to carry out the task of sanitation workers including that of manual scavenging. A large number of them carried on with their vocation even after independence. Reports say that the noise for their eviction stared getting louder once the practice of manual scavenging was done away with.
Expressing concerns over the safety of the community, Dr Gurinder Singh Ranghreta who is the leader of International Mazhabi Sikh Association pointed that the plight of the Mazhabis remains the same even after centuries of their embracing Sikhism. “I want to ask those targeting the community in Shillong that are we not an equal citizen of this country and isn't Meghalaya a part of India? The Sikhs have been at the receiving end whether it is the Congress in power like it happened in 1984 or whether it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power under which Dalits in particular have been targeted. We want that security be provided to our brethren at all costs,” he said.
The community in Punjab is waking up to the developments in Shillong and news is being spread through the social media. “We are making the community aware of what is going around. We will be approaching the government with our demands regarding the safety and security of the community away from Punjab. If need be we will ourselves be sending a delegation to Meghalaya and maybe later going there in large numbers,” Ranghreta said.
But political observers in Shillong have a different take on the issue. “This is nothing new. In different states there are different majority communities that have targeted various minority communities. In Shillong that is dominated by Khasi tribals there has been a racism of different type. A large section of Khasis have always referred to the Nepalese, Punjabis, Bengalis and other minorities as 'Dkhar', a slur used for outsiders. They are not bothered what is their caste, religion or race. For them they are unwanted 'Dkhar',” pointed a political observer in Meghalaya.
Pointing at the changing scenario he said that earlier the North East was never on the radar and such instances went largely unreported since there were problems of connectivity, communication etc. Observers say that there was a time in 1987 when Shillong was under curfew for one full year and it never evoked much response in the national media. But now nothing goes unreported in the era of social media. They point out that things are much different than before under the present regime so far as reporting on such instances is concerned. They say that earlier there have been many occasions that law an order issues were reported only in the media while no one bothered to register criminal cases for them.
The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) too has reportedly decided to send a delegation to Shillong besides writing to the state government there to take stringent action against the perpetrators of violence against the Sikhs.
It remains to be seen how the situation is brought back to normalcy even as more reports of stone-pelting have led to curfew being extended during the night on Monday. Much of the onus will also be on the Centre to intervene and direct the state government to take the required measures.