EDITORIAL | Ichamati issue: Look for truth, do not settle for rumours



The recent hue and cry over alleged cases of harassment and atrocities against non-tribal Hindus living in the border villages of Ichamati and Bholaganj under Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills district have raised many eyebrows.

The allegations have even prompted government machineries like the District Council and the Police department to form dedicated committees.

It all began earlier this year, on February 20. A clash broke out at Ichamati under Shella block in East Khasi Hills between KSU members and a few non-locals, which resulted in the death of 35-year-old taxi driver Lurshai Hynniewta of Khliehshnong Sohra.

Enormous backlash followed the incident as pressure groups reignited their demand to implement Inner-Line Permit (ILP) including entry and exit points.

The Ichamati incident naturally died down after a few months, but the demand for ILP has remained constant.

But until recently, a representation sent by three individuals to Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik on October 15 has sparked fresh controversy, with committees and enquiries being set up to investigate allegations of harassment and atrocities committed against the Bengali-speaking people in Ichamati and Bholaganj.

For someone living in Shillong, it is easy to comment and pass judgement on the issue.

But how many of us know what goes on in ground zero? Not everyone knows the entire story, and most of what we think we know are just hearsay.

But, if the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has stepped in, seeking clarification into incidents of alleged harassment of non-tribal women and children, then there is a possibility that such things happened or are happening.

There can never be smoke without a fire, and it requires proper investigation to ensure safety for women and children irrespective of racial or religious differences.

But the recent report submitted by the Meghalaya government to the NCPCR stated that there were no instances of harassment to the women and children at Ichamati but admitted that people of that area are facing economic hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bitter truth! There are always those who tend to flare up the issue and play the victim card.

And as one may notice, the tribal versus non-tribal issue has become a heated topic of discussion once again and is single-handedly bringing communal tension and fear back to the forefront.

To say that Bengalis and people belonging to the Hindu community are unsafe in Meghalaya is nothing but an exaggeration.

We are no longer living in the Meghalaya of old, and it is a shame that such issues are cropping up just when communal harmony had settled in after years of turmoil.

We cannot change the past, but we can all learn to move forward together.

One cannot afford to throw away progress based on hearsay.

It is easy to lay the blame, point a finger, complain and react.

But what if we all started thinking about a solution instead of instigating or adding fuel to the fire?

We must tackle the problem, not add to it. We must be better than this.