Religion never a basis for discrimination in Shillong
Amid all the din about the UPSC results announced recently, a story that was drowned out was that of Ansar Shaikh, who had to change his surname to a Hindu one to rent a flat in Pune. It is unfortunate that such stories of discrimination are not rare in major cities.
Is the situation different in Shillong?
Qamruddin, who is a tailor near G S Road, said that he and his family had never faced any discrimination due to their religious beliefs. "I don't know of any discrimination against Muslim residents. All religions coexist peacefully," he said. He said that every person is judged on their merit and not identity. "If I am a better tailor than someone else, people will come to me. They do not care whether I am a Christian, Muslim or Hindu," he said.
Noor Mohammed, who works in a bakery near Rynjah, also echoed Qamruddin's statements. "There is harmony among people here. I have relatives elsewhere in the country and they face problems when renting houses or cooking meat. Here there is more respect for different cultures and religions," said Noor.
However, he added that some instances of discrimination do occur. "There have been a few incidents where some of my friends were refused accommodation. But this is a case of few rotten apples and not indicative of the general sentiments of the people," he said.
The agitations in Meghalaya have been against the 'dkhar', which is a term used to refer to an 'outsider', not necessarily belonging to a particular religion. "However, the agitations have usually come against particular communities. First, it was against the Bengalis, then the Nepalis followed by the Marwaris," said Shivam Chowdhury, a resident of Shillong.
In each of these agitations, the word 'dkhar' was contextually used to refer to a particular community. "Who knows? Maybe the Muslim community will become the 'dkhar' in a future agitation," he added. Shivam was quick to add that the occurrence of such agitations had reduced greatly. "There is more acceptance among the local people about 'outsiders' and Shillong has largely been a harmonious city," he said.
Qamruddin said that agitations were brewing against the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but it had nothing to do with the religious identity of those immigrants. "The fact that they are illegal immigrants is the bone of contention, not anything else. People feel that employment opportunities for locals are being reduced due to influx of illegal immigrants. That's the issue," he said.
It reminds me of my meeting someone new in Shillong to whom I mentioned that I was from Hyderabad. They recounted that the first time they visited Hyderabad, they were a little apprehensive because of the high Muslim population in the city. But after visiting the city and meeting the local people, these misconceptions were swept away.
It's good to know that this city (Shillong) does not need dispelling of misconceptions. Religion is a non-issue here.
Amrit BLS is currently pursuing Master of Arts in Communication at the University of Hyderabad and was adamant on doing his internship in the Northeast. Why? He was intrigued.
TNT – The Northeast Today was intrigued by that answer and took him on as a Summer Intern.
At 6'3" he is conspicuous enough to be noticed walking the hillocks of Shillong looking for stories to be told. His project "The Good, Bad and Ugly" delves into a balanced analysis of what we often take for granted.