United Sikhs - shillong gng

Sikhs in Shillong – What’s the story?

Sikhs across the world were both shocked and concerned following news this weekend of a mob attacking Sikh families and attempting to set a Gurdwara alight in the city of Shillong, in the Northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya. 

With lots of misinformation and a lack of insight into where the issue stemmed from, Sikh PA were able to speak with a contact from India who helpfully explained the situation and the status of Sikhs in the region, whilst also providing facts based on reports, including from humanitarian charity United Sikhs who are on the ground in Shillong.

Facts on the situation via United Sikhs
  • A mob of 200-300 gathered on the evening of 31 May which led to the trouble
  • Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara was attacked
  • Local authorities have disabled phone-lines and internet access (believed to be done to prevent rumour spreading which has led to rampaging mobs)
  • A curfew was imposed by police on 1 June to prevent mobs from gathering

United Sikhs can be followed on Facebook or Twitter for updates.

Indian journalist  shared the following with us;

There are two versions about the incident that set off the violence. Some members of the Sikh community in Punjabi Line said that after a Sikh woman was harassed by Khasi men, she and four other women living in the settlement beat them up. The Khasis say that after the argument about parking, they were assaulted by men from the Punjabi Line colony.

The Meghalaya police have arrested one man from Punjabi Line in connection with the assault.

Despite the competing claims, the feuding parties reached a formal compromise at the local Cantonment Board police station on Thursday afternoon. The agreement, written by the bus driver in Khasi, stated that he had no hard feelings towards the Sikh woman and man accused in Thursday’s altercation. “I feel no anger or bitterness,” the statement reads. “And they have given us money [Rs 4,000] for medicines for the conductor and the two passengers.”

But on Thursday night, fake news soon spread on Whatsapp that a group of Punjabi people from the colony had decapitated two Khasi boys. A mob soon gathered near the colony, intent on violence. The mob clashed with personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force and state police, resulting in injuries on both sides. Superintendent of Police (City) Stephan Rynjah was injured after he was hit by a rod. The police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd.

Curfew was imposed in several parts of Shillong early on Friday morning. In other places, restrictions on the assembly of more than four people were also put in place. Internet and text messaging services were also shut down across the city to prevent rumours from spreading. The Army was put on standby. On Friday night, the Army carried out a flag march in areas where curfew had been imposed. The Army also fed and housed more than 300 civilians from the “disturbed areas” in the cantonment, according to a release from the Press Information Bureau.

Read here full report here.

Via Nishant Upadhyay and Shuranjeet Singh.

How long have the Sikhs lived in the area and what are the group’s characteristics in the state?

The Sikhs in the northeast of India begun migration to the area in the 1960s, largely from Bihar. The community exists in major urban centres of Shillong, Kohima, and Aizawl exclusively, including a large community in Guwahati.
The history of violence against Sikhs comes in two forms: First, there are Sikhs from Scheduled Tribe (a term used for Indians of a perceived lower status) and Other Backward Caste (a term used in India for the collective of Indians perceived to be of lower castes) backgrounds in Bihar which are not recognised by political actors. This pushed them into disprivileged positions as minorities within minorities. Secondly, the Sikhs are not understood as separate from mainland Indians. The nature of the conflict is not religious, but rather geographical and land-based. This leads to political actors categorising Sikhs as the ‘Other’ without taking into account the political dynamics of the Sikh community in mainland India, where they exist as a minority throughout with a complete history of violence against them.
Simply, Sikhs are seen as and are equated to mainland Indians, thus, seen as a threat to local culture and ethnic dynamics. For a conservative political actor, there will be no difference in mainland Hindu and a Sikh as both are seen as outsiders.

What is the current political situation in the North-Eastern States?

The current political situation is a mixture between hope and paranoia. On one hand, there has been a push for economic integration of the region with the mainland which, in crude neoliberal terms, is equated with development. On the other hand, there is a shift in the discussions around social change, which, after a long period of conflict, has changed into one that is fearful of the future. Previously, the region was embroiled in constant conflict between militant groups and Indian military. Now, people have realised that certain demands were not met or diverted.
The political climate is one of confusion; the much awaited development has forced ethnic groups to drop demands in hope of larger connectivity. This has the result of an influx of labour from mainland India which might threaten the cultural and social independence of indigenous, ethnic tribes, who fought for many years to win them.
This has led to an increased push against the internal ‘Other’, aka migrants from India. Some migrants communities have lived there for two generations but are now facing more stiff opposition.
A subsequent identity crisis has ensued with there being confusion between integration and assimilation. The Christian majority population define their ‘cultural distinction’ from the mainland Indians on the grounds of their distinct religion. They are fearful of what they see as domination by the ‘Hindi belt’ – central Indian states.
The area wants to preserve its cultural identity, pursue economic development and growth after years of conflict. The latter has proven to be in conceptual opposition to the former, manifesting in the form of sporadic, targeted and low-intensity political violence.
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