Is Shillong really a tourist’s paradise?
Meghalaya has witnessed a boost in tourism in 2015 thanks to the organisation of a wide range of events ranging from the Sohra Cherrapunjee Marathon and Bacardi NH7 Weekender, to the recently concluded Indigenous Terra Madre Slow Food festival which saw a huge attendance possible in thousands that included over 600 international delegates.
On the flip-side, the recent strings of violence and agitations have raised speculation, once again, as to how safe the State really is for tourists and its own people alike.
Recently, an agitation in West Jaintia Hills led to a violent outbreak between students of Kiang Nangbah Government College and police personnel that resulted in 17 students and 5 policemen sustaining injuries. The scene was a grim one with students pelting stones at the police and the khaki-clad unit, allegedly ordered by the Deputy Commission, forced to retaliate with high-pressure water cannons and tear gas.
The incident was followed by another one two days later, with an RDX blast rocking Jhalupara locality in Shillong. The intensity was high enough to partially damage two vehicles and a road roller, causing panic among residents. Later, the banned militant outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) claimed responsibility for the blast with the outfit's publicity secretary Sainkupar Nongtraw providing a statement that its purpose was to warn certain non-indigenous locals of the State against expressing their strength over indigenous locals. The HNLC also expressed their dissent against the police department for their actions against the students of Kiang Nangbah Government College during the agitation.
The next day, a car bomb was recovered by the police in Rangsakona village under Byrnihat police outpost in Ri Bhoi district before it was successfully defused. The bomb was placed under the vehicle belonging to a contractor who also received a demand note of Rs. 6 lakhs with a threat against his life. There has not been any confirmation as to whether the demand note was authentically handed out by the proscribed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) or by extortionists.
While tourism is finally at its peak in the State, incidents like these leave a blind spot for tourists looking to visit Meghalaya for its beauty. What many fear is that the State and its capital Shillong will fall back in time just when progress seems to have been made.