OPINION | Shillong Imbroglio: Why I will not be called an ethnic cleanser?


By Cherry kordor kharshiing

Shillong, June 25, 2018: 

Over the past three weeks many have voiced their thoughts and reflections on the clashes which erupted on 31st May 2018 at Sweeper's Lane, Shillong. Some have even questioned where is the voice of the academia in all of this?

As teachers, we don't quickly jump to conclusions because we try our best to be rational about things. Now that the dust looks like it is almost settling down at Sweeper's Lane, here is a collection of my thoughts and reflections over the imbroglio on the 31st of May.

To begin with, I refuse to perceive it as ethnic cleansing and even attempts of it. The term ethnic cleansing came into wide usage in the 1990's to describe the treatment suffered by particular ethnic groups during conflicts that erupted after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia.

According to Andrew Bell Fialkoff, the Bosnian Serbs Forces would wage a systematic campaign of forced deportation, murder, torture and rape, with the aim of expelling all Bosnian Muslim and Croatian civilians from the territory of Eastern Bosnia.

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This term is often linked to genocide and is today considered to be a crime against humanity and war crimes. Thus I say that we need to be careful about the way we use it. If we apply the above understanding of ethnic cleansing to what happened at Sweeper's Lane on the 31st of May 2018 and the events following it, we will realize that to describe it as ethnic cleansing is 'foolish'.

It is so because clearly it was not a "systematic" and "planned" campaign against the non tribal residents of Sweeper's Lane; it was simply a clash where two young Khasi boys and a man were beaten up by the present residents of the area.

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It would have ended there had the state machinery promptly arrested the culprits. But that did not happen immediately even when an FIR was filed. Angry mob then gathered to demand and seek justice. Stones were pelted at the police forces when they tried to prevent the mob from entering the Sweeper Lane area.

No one from both sides died. Narratives like the Gurudwara was burnt and the residents of the area were attacked were just rumours and fake news propagated by the media houses which tried to capitalize on identity politics.

Maybe for them, there is business in communalism. Who knows? The term ethnic cleansing is also associated with the lack of neutrality on the part of security agencies. What happened on this day and the week following it did not exhibit any partiality on the part of government of Meghalaya.

The police were deployed to protect the residents of the area and a High Level Committee was formed to further study the demand by the Khasis to relocate the current residents. Everyone living in Shillong today must testify to the fact that no other non tribals living in other parts of the city were threatened or harmed during that one week when things were tensed and law and order seemed unsure.

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To conclude, the demand by the Khasis to relocate the residents of Sweeper's Lane to the already constructed Municipal quarter built especially for them is justified. Presently this area is bursting at its seam. It has become congested, unhygienic and crime infested and not fit for human dwelling.

It has also grown into a huge commercial area whose corners are lined with hawkers. Most of these hawkers are people flowing into Shillong from West Khasi Hills. They set up small businesses there to sustain themselves. This might be one of the reasons why a huge number of people from West Khasi Hills joined the protest because these hawkers were reportedly threatened, constantly,  by residents of the area.

To use the rhetoric that 'we have lived here for so long and therefore we will not move' , is sheer arrogance and un-accommodating. The area is not a private property and no one can claim ownership over it. They need to be relocated so that the area can be cleaned off and the space can be used to ease traffic and human congestion.

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Shillong is now a pluralistic society. Clashes and differences are the essence of pluralism. If such clashes are branded as attempts of ethnic cleansing, then one need to understand the word carefully. I love my people and I will be the first one to correct them if they are on the wrong. In this case, they are not!

They have been accommodating and made attempts at community bonding. That is why we have films like 19/87 by Wanphrang Diengdoh and Dondor Lyngdoh. For these reasons, I will not allow anyone to accuse me and my people of being mass murderers, war criminals guilty of planned and systematic genocide.

Those who think so, please think again!

(The writer is the Assistant Professor of the Mass Media Department, St Anthony's College, Shillong) 


(The views and opinions expressed in this article belongs solely to the writer and TNT-The Northeast Today does not subscribe to the same views)