Updated: March 3, 2020 12:20:02 pm
Even as calm returns to riot-hit areas of Delhi, stabbings have been reported from Meghalaya. As in Delhi, the violence in Meghalaya, too, has been triggered by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). While 47 deaths have been reported so far from Delhi, stabbing incidents have claimed three lives in Meghalaya. The violence in Delhi and Shillong may not be the same, but in both places it was foreshadowed by polarisation on the citizenship issue. What is evident is that the government’s CAA push is reopening old religious and ethnic fault lines and threatening to push communities to the edge. The shrill rhetoric by senior government functionaries during election campaigns does not help matters.
Identity has always been a sensitive issue in the Northeast. The NRC in Assam and the subsequent events, especially the CAA, have unleashed forces that threaten to disrupt the tentative peace in the region. Politicians who have backed these measures for temporary electoral gains may think they have control over the forces at play. But that is not always the case. The suspicion and fears triggered by the Assam NRC, and the CAA that followed, have mutated into forms their sponsors may not have expected or thought of. The Northeast, for instance, engages with the question of national identity, central to the CAA-NRC debate, very differently from the rest of India. In Meghalaya, as in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast, the CAA has revived fears of an invasion by “outsiders” and the eventual alienation of the locals from land and political power. Political groups, including the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), insist that the redressal of these fears lies in firming up the state borders and keeping out “outsiders”. The demand for enforcing the colonial era provision, the Inner Line Permit, in Meghalaya stems from the notion that open borders are a threat to the integrity of the state and its “unique” character. The campaign for ILP and against the CAA by groups like the KSU has inevitably turned into a tribal versus non-tribal battle — two of the three persons killed in Meghalaya were non-tribals from Assam.
The government needs to recognise that its CAA-NRC push threatens to ratchet up tensions between communities. The rhetoric around it has to be brought down and the government must desist from policy prescriptions that privilege one community over the other, or are seen to do so.
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