Keeping the pressure up on the Meghalaya government to revoke its decision of relocating Dalit Sikh residents of Them lew Mawlong area in Shillong, a delegation of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) Thursday requested the intervention of Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik in the matter.
“We shared our concerns and he assured us that no injustice will be done and the residents will not be removed illegally,” DSGMC President Manjinder Singh Sirsa told The Indian Express.
A four-member team, led by Sirsa — who is also the National Spokesperson of Shiromani Akali Dal — met Malik at his official residence in Shillong earlier on Thursday afternoon. “He said he had already taken up the matter with Chief Minister Meghalaya Conrad Sangma as well,” said Sirsa, adding that they could not meet the Chief Minister because he was out of town.
DSGMC has already taken a stay in this case and we are ready to fight any legal battle to protect the rights of people living there for decades@TimesNow @ANI @punjabkesari @thetribunechd https://t.co/JlIuyX79eX pic.twitter.com/efHpYP5WMj
— Manjinder Singh Sirsa (@mssirsa) October 14, 2021
The Sangma-led Cabinet’s October 7 decision to relocate the Sikh community from the area, also called the Punjabi Lane, based on recommendations made by a high-level committee, had drawn protests from the residents, who claim that they have been living in the area since the 1850s, after they were brought by the British to work as scavengers and sweepers in the region.
While the government claims that the 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.
The land dispute has simmered for decades, with sections of society and political organisations in Meghalaya demanding that residents be shifted to some other area. It took a violent turn in May 2018, leading to clashes between local Khasis and Sikhs of the area, after which a high-level committee was formed to settle it.
While Sikh groups have called the move “illegal”, “unjust” and “unconstitutional”, with leaders saying they would take the matter up with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Meghalaya government has stood firm on its decision so far. On Monday, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong had told The Indian Express that they had “followed due diligence” on the issue.
Sirsa said that since a status quo had been ordered by Meghalaya High Court on 9 April, 2021 based on a petition filed by Sikh groups in 2018, the high-level committee had no power to make such a decision. “The residents cannot be relocated without following due process,” he said.
In a representation to Malik, DSGMC — an autonomous organisation that manages Gurudwaras, hospitals, educational institutions and welfare of Sikhs — that the Meghalaya government’s decision to take “possession” of the land is an action towards “instigating clashes” that can “spiral into violent unrest.”
It also added that the government of Meghalaya asking the Urban Affairs Department to work out a relocation plan may lead to instigating the residents, “without even granting them an opportunity to say anything.”
“The unilateral decision of the government in the name of illegal settlers is highly unconstitutional in nature and despite the directions of Hon’ble High Court they are not stopping from going ahead” it added.
Gurjit Singh, President of the Harijan Panchayat Committee, which represents members of the Sikh Dalit community in Shillong, said that they felt “more confident” after the DSGMC meeting with Malik. “We are hopeful that the government will rethink their decision,” he said.