Shillong’s night of arson

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THE Northeast is no stranger to horror stories about treatment meted out to outsiders by self-proclaimed defenders of “our women”, “our jobs” and “our land”. The situation is too horrifyingly complex as major and minor tribes, besides different racial and religious groups, jostle for existence and relevance. The long night of arson in Shillong last week triggered mild consternation in Punjab because the targeted outsiders happened to be Valmiki Sikhs who settled there about four decades back. The Sikhs of Shillong lost their valuables and household possessions, but were fortunately spared any loss of lives, or even injury, unlike the settlers from Bengal, Nepal and Bihar who were at the receiving end in the `70s and 80s. Worse, few perpetrators of the earlier rounds of mayhem and murder were booked.Besides, ethnic tensions have accentuated in the Northeast ever since the new government in Delhi decided to take up social engineering to gain political supremacy in the region. The still-under-wraps Naga accord has set off apprehensions in Manipur, Arunachal and Assam about loss of territory to a “Greater Nagalim”. The move to make Hindu religion the basis for citizenship is agitating the Ahoms and Bengali Muslims alike in Assam. The expectations of the people from the Modi dispensation after it rechristened the “Look East policy” to “Act East” have remained unmet on the crucial livelihood benchmark. In this tinderbox of unmet expectations and growing resentment, a minor eve-teasing incident set off the latest round of violence against outsiders.The new government in Meghalaya has made the right noises and taken appropriate measure — Army flag marches and all-party meetings. This was noted by a Shiromani Akali Dal delegation that visited the city. But the state government must give a free hand to the security forces to nab the arsonists to serve as a deterrent to any future mischief. Meghalaya also needs social fixing. Malnutrition and semi-starvation is on the rise, not to speak of joblessness. The incident was restricted to a small part of Shillong, but points to the warped political narrative that encourages victimisation of the outsider rather than diligently address the region’s broken social plumbing.

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