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Saturday, April 04, 2020

In Meghalaya, 3 deaths widen CAA, ethnic faultlines: ‘Had machetes… planned attack’

Curfew has been imposed and mobile internet services have been snapped in large parts of the state following the violence.

Written by Abhishek Saha | Shillong | Updated: March 2, 2020 7:06:34 am
Meghalaya, Meghalaya violence, Meghalaya ILP, Meghalaya stabbing, Shillong violence, Meghalaya CAA violence, Shillong clashes, Indian Express Curfew in Shillong, other parts. (Express photo: Abhishek Saha)

Rupchand Dewan, the 29-year-old from Assam’s Barpeta district who was killed in Shillong on Saturday, and his wife had adopted a baby girl only 15 days ago, his relatives said.

Dewan, who used to sell tomatoes in Shillong’s commercial hub of Bara Bazar and lived in the Laban area of the city, is among three people who have died so far in violence believed to be related to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. On Saturday morning, two men walked up to his small store and stabbed him.

His death followed the killing of a Khasi man, Lurshai Hynniewta, by a mob, allegedly of non-tribals, in Ichamati village in the East Khasi Hills district, close to the Bangladesh border, on Friday. Curfew has been imposed and mobile internet services have been snapped in large parts of the state following the violence.

“Rupchand was an innocent man. How would killing him give justice to the death of a Khasi in Ichamati?” asked Dewan’s cousin Samsul. Dewan is survived by, besides his wife and infant daughter, a paralysed father, an ailing mother and a younger brother.

Parveen Nongrum, at whose house Dewan stayed on rent, said he had been staying and working in Shillong for the last five years. “That day, he went to his shop as usual. We were told that his body had multiple stab wounds,” she said.

Explained

Signals simmering tensions

The last four decades have seen numerous incidents of violence in Meghalaya targeted at non-tribals, including from Bengal and Nepal. The latest bout follows a sustained campaign over the implementation of the Inner Line Permit and unrest in the Northeast over the CAA that led to six deaths in Assam two months ago.

While Dewan, a Muslim, succumbed to his wounds, nine others, all “non-indigenous” people, who were also targeted by the masked men who went on a stabbing spree in Bara Bazaar on Saturday, are recovering from their wounds, police officials said. The Saturday attack in Shillong is believed to be in retaliation for the killing of Hynniewta, the Khasi tribal who was part of an anti-CAA meeting in Ichamati village.

At noon on Friday, a team of activists of the influential Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) had gone to Ichamati, around 90 km from Shillong, to hold a meeting to canvass for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Meghalaya and oppose the CAA. According to a senior police officer, around 3 pm, after the meeting ended, clashes broke out between the KSU members and non-tribals of the area. “Thereafter, the KSU members burnt a haystack at the edge of the market and attempted to burn a house. The non-tribals retaliated, and stoned a bus carrying KSU members,” a police statement said.

The KSU’s version is that it was a “planned” attack on them because of their campaign against the CAA – a contentious issue in the Northeast with several powerful groups opposing it – and the implementation of the ILP, a colonial-era law that regulates an Indian citizen’s visit or stay in the northeastern states of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and, lately, Manipur.

“There were men armed with sticks, knives and machetes. You can see them in the video. It was a pre-planned attack on us,” said Readyon Nongrum, assistant general secretary of KSU, who was part of the meeting at Ichamati.

He added that the violence in the state could continue in the coming days. “We were speaking against the CAA and demanding the ILP but that enraged the people there,” Nongrum added.

Bantiplang, who works at a hotel in Cherrapunji in the district, said his uncle Hynniewta, who was killed on Friday, was a worker at the office of a taxi drivers’ association in the tourist hotspot of Cherrapunji, over 40 km from Ichamati village. “He was a KSU volunteer and attended all their meetings. On Friday, the mob hit him on the head with rods and cut his hands with knives,” the relative said.

Hynniewta is survived by four children – the eldest is 12 and youngest, one. “My uncle is gone. Will violent retaliation bring him back? We just want justice and peace,” Bantiplang said.

The police officer said eight persons – “five Bengalis and three Manipuris” – have been arrested for Hynniewta’s death and the attack on KSU members.

At the civil hospital in Shillong were those with multiple stab wounds from the recent attacks.

Jaddu Choudhury, 52, who hails from Assam’s Silchar and has been selling vegetables in Bara Bazar since 1982, was stabbed twice in his shoulders on Saturday. “I could not see the attackers’ faces. They stabbed me and then attacked Dewan. I survived but he died,” he recounted.

Akash Ali, 27, also from Barpeta, who works for a local courier company, was attacked – “hit on his head with a hammer”, according to his brother – in another incident at Langsning on Saturday. “He had to deliver some item at Bara Bazaar. He was driving a tempo. They first broke the vehicle and then dragged him out and thrashed him. He hasn’t spoken since then,” said Moghrab Ali, the brother.

In another ward of the hospital lay T Wanwar, 39, a Khasi and headman of a village near Ichamati. He had gone to calm down tempers when the confrontation between KSU members and locals was underway. But he was attacked, his relatives said.

Dewan’s funeral was held at his village in Barpeta on Saturday. His relatives say they will wait for the situation in Meghalaya to improve before coming to Shillong for trade.

Hynniewta will be buried on Monday.

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