With Shillong remaining tense for the fifth day straight, a curfew had been imposed from 4 pm on Monday till 5 am Tuesday. Centre has also approved to deploy an additional six companies of paramilitary forces as the administration continues to face troubles in maintaining law and order in the city.
This move came after curfew imposed on June 1 was relaxed for seven hours from 8 am on Sunday and the mob continued to pelt stones at security forces forcing police to fire tear gas shells.
Media reports state that the riot started after an alleged argument between a Sikh woman who lives in Shillong’s Punjabi Line colony and a Khasi bus driver over the parking spot for a Meghalaya State Transport Corporation bus at Them Meteor area.
Scroll.in reports two versions of the incident: Some members of the Sikh community in Punjabi Line said that after a Sikh woman was harassed by men from the Khasi community; she and four other women living in the settlement beat them up.
On the other hand, the Khasis claim that following the argument, they were assaulted by some men from the Punjabi Line colony.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said the police have “found out that there are certain people who are funding this agitation”.
Though last night, the police had forced some protesters, who were involved in the clashes, to leave their hideouts at the Mawkhar and Mission Compound areas near Motphran, a few meters away from the Punjabi Line area, a district administration official said.
In retaliation, the protesters overturned a police van near Roberts Hospital and assaulted an on-duty officer in public view, he said.
“The situation is very tense” Deputy Commissioner, East Khasi Hills, Peter. S. Dkhar told IANS. He also added that suspension of the internet on mobile services would continue beside prohibiting the illegal sale of petrol and diesel.
Meghalaya Home Minister James Sangma today appealed to people to stay calm and said the government is doing everything to restore peace in the city.
“The agitators should stop protesting as the government has already met many of their demands, which included the arrest of the accused in the assault of the bus handyman on May 31,” he said.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had said yesterday that the violence was a local issue and some people with vested interests had been trying to give a communal colour to it.
“The problem is very much in a particular locality, on a particular issue. It just happened that two particular communities were involved, but it’s not a communal thing,” the CM had said.
Since the violence broke out, almost half of the colony’s residents have moved out of their homes taking refuge in the gurdwara.
While the men stood guard outside, the women worked in the gurdwara’s langar, the community kitchen, on which the colony’s residents have depended for their meals these past few days.
On Sunday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced that he was rushing a four-member team led by Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Randhawa to Shillong.
A government official’s statement said the team would make a ground assessment of the situation in the troubled areas and extend all possible help to the Sikh community there.
Singh’s announcement came after an Akali Dal team from Delhi visited Shillong on Sunday and met CM Sangma and Sikh residents of Punjabi Lane, where the altercation took place.
Many believe that the violence took place despite the agreement for compromise was signed, indicated that it was aimed at driving members of the Punjabi community out of their homes.
Homemaker Asha Kaur said that she had heard that the state government planned to build a mall at the site of the colony to serve the city’s increasing tourist arrivals. “We have been here since our childhood and are raising children of our own now,” said Kaur. “But they want to drive us out at all costs. Yesterday, I heard them sloganeering outside, ‘Either you die or you give us this place.’”
Amid reports of simmering tension, Amarinder has also urged Sangma to provide full protection and safety for the Sikh community and their religious institutions in the state.
CM Sangma called up Amarinder on Friday night to assure him of the safety of the Sikh community and their religious institutions in the state following communal clashes.
Sangma also assured Amarinder that there was no damage to any gurdwara or other institutions belonging to the Sikh minority in Meghalaya. Amarinder expressed concern over the developments and hoped the situation does not escalate further, said an official.
The Chief Minister’s decision to send a team to Shillong was triggered by reports that, despite the Meghalaya Chief Minister’s personal assurance, the situation was still not under control and had the potential of escalating further, added the spokesperson.
Amarinder has offered all possible help to the Meghalaya government in ensuring the security of the Dalit Sikhs, whose ancestors were reportedly brought to Shillong during the British era. He said, if necessary, the Centre should intervene to defuse the communal tensions in which the Sikhs in Shillong are caught.