Updated: October 12, 2021 9:52:25 am
Days after representatives of the Dalit Sikh community in Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area – also called Punjabi Lane – protested the Meghalaya Cabinet’s decision to relocate them in another area, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong on Monday said the government was doing “due diligence” on the issue.
“We are following due diligence. It is not a question of throwing out the Sikh community from the area. Our aim is to relocate them to a proper place,” Tynsong told The Indian Express.
On October 7, the Conrad Sangma-led Cabinet approved a proposal to relocate the Sikh residents from the area, based on a recommendation made by a high-level committee headed by Tynsong.
The committee was constituted in June 2018 to find a solution to the decades-old land dispute, following violent clashes between local Khasis and Sikh residents of the area the previous month.
The 2.5-acred ‘Punjabi Lane’, next to Shillong’s commercial hub and largest traditional market place, Iewduh, has been home to Sikh Dalits, who were brought by the British to work as scavengers and sweepers in the 19th century. For three decades, sections of society and political organisations in Meghalaya have been demanding that residents be shifted to some other area — the primary argument being that a prime commercial area shouldn’t hold a residential locality. Over the years, localised brawls between residents and Khasis have been reported, the biggest being the clash in May 2018.
While the government claims that the disputed land belongs to the Urban Affairs Department, the Sikhs say the land was “gifted” to them by the Syiem (chief) of Hima Mylliem – one of the chiefdoms in Khasi Hills – in the 1850s. Today, Mylliem is one of the 54 traditional administrative territories under the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, and the Punjabi Lane constitutes a part of it.
According to the October 7 Cabinet decision, the Urban Affairs Department would take possession of the land from the Syiem of Mylliem within a week. Announcing the decision, Chief Minister Sangma tweeted that the residents, who are permanent employees of the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB), would be relocated to constructed quarters. “Further, we will request the other residents residing in the colony to shift to the designated locations,” Sangma had tweeted, adding that the Urban Affairs Department would “explore other locations” for them.
In response to the decision, the Harijan Panchayat Committee, which represents members of the Sikh Dalit community in Shillong, said it would “fight tooth and nail” to stop the government from carrying out the drive.
On Sunday, PTI reported that Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said he would take up with Union Home Minister Amit Shah the Meghalaya government’s alleged move to “evict” Sikhs living in Shillong.
On Monday, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), on orders of its chairman Vijay Sampla, sent a notice to the Meghalaya Chief Secretary and other senior officials, asking them to submit a report at the earliest.
Harijan Panchayat Committee Gurjit Singh told The Indian Express that the government’s plan had caused “a lot of tension and anxiety” among the community members.
“We have lived here for 200 years. Time and again, the government tries to move us and our people get scared,” he said, adding that they had not received any official intimation from the government yet. He added that they had two documents to prove that the land was “gifted” to them by the Syiem of Mylliem: a 1954 agreement and one more in 2008.
Tynsong said the Sikh community should not “get confused” that they were “being thrown out”. “They are people of Meghalaya and we are here to help them,” he said, adding that they wanted to make an inventory of the residents of the area.
“While several of them work at the SMB, there are many settlers as well and we do not know where they came from. We request them to help us make an inventory, and come forward and declare their details such as name and occupation,” said Tynsong.
Singh said 300-odd Punjabi families reside in the locality. “Only 20 people out of them [who are close to retirement] are permanent employees of the SMB — whom the government claims will help relocate. The remainder, according to the government, are unauthorised,” he said, adding that it was “completely unjust” and “baseless”.
He added that the HPC had filed a petition in the Meghalaya High Court in 2018, and a status quo has been ordered by the court on 9 April, 2021. “We fail to understand why the government is in such a hurry when a status quo has been ordered recently,” he said.
Inputs from ENS, Chandigarh
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