An altercation between a Khasi boy and a Punjabi woman, fuelled by rumours on social media, led to protests and violent clashes in Shillong Friday, forcing authorities to impose curfew in 14 localities of the city. Until late evening, clashes were still on in an area near the city’s commercial hub. Officials said at least 10 people had been arrested.
Mobile Internet and SMS services were suspended in the city as authorities battled mobs to bring the situation under control.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said: “We are monitoring the law and order situation closely in Shillong. Efforts are being made to bring normalcy in the affected areas. Request the citizens to maintain peace.” He said he had held an emergency meeting with his Home Minister and other Cabinet colleagues over the law and order situation.
Stephen Rynjah, Superintendent of Police (City), East Khasi Hills, told The Indian Express: “At least 10 people were arrested for separate incidents of violence that started Thursday morning. One among them is an accused in the beating up of a minor boy which led to the violence. The others (arrested) are for the violence last evening. The minor’s condition is stable now.”
The Them Iew Mawlong locality, where the first incident took place Thursday morning, is a Punjabi settlement. The area remained tense throughout Friday and the locality saw a large deployment of security forces. Civilian and vehicle movement were restricted.
According to multiple sources including police officers, district officials and residents, it all began when a boy, who was on a government-run bus that was being driven by a relative, was assaulted by some residents of Them Iew Mawlong following an altercation with a woman. One account said that the altercation was over the manner in which the bus had been parked in the locality, obstructing residents from fetching water from a public tap.
P S Dkhar, Deputy Commissioner, East Khasi Hills, said the initial incident was a “petty” matter and the situation was quickly brought under control. Violence began in the area in the evening when a mob, which included bus drivers, descended on the locality to target its residents.
Another senior officer, who did not wish to be named, said: “Stones were pelted and petrol bombs thrown at policemen who were preventing angry youth of one community from attacking people of another community. Several rounds of tear gas shells were also fired.” The officer said social media fuelled rumours about three deaths that never happened.
Dkhar said: “We had imposed curfew on Friday morning. Rest of Shillong remained fine but certain pockets were disturbed. We will consider the situation tomorrow morning and decide whether to lift or relax the curfew.”