“Well done is better than well said.”
– Benjamin Franklin
The trouble in Shillong and clashes between two ethnic groups is largely a reflection at the national level which arose passions at the local level with local issues. This is not the first time that such trouble erupted which is linked with the Punjabi Lane. Although the said settlement around which all the trouble started is said to be 200 year old, still, the people there are not taken to be locals by the dominant Khasis and the sentiment of the settlers seemed to be mutual. The incident which was a case of accident involving a Khasi bus driver has grown into a full blown ethnic clash that requires even the Indian Army to be on stand by. Locals took up the issue and demanded relocation of the people. Mobilisation of riot police and paramilitary forces didn’t help and curfew did very little to stem the tide of violence. The situation is very serious, even the Indian Army is asked to ensure security. Additional paramilitary forces were called for by Meghalaya government and they were rushed in.
The incident which could have been solved by a traffic police has become something else, signifies a tinder box that can be lit and exploded anytime. The focus may be now on the local Khasis and their xenophobia, but this is a larger reflection on the nation which is pervading all over that we refuse to acknowledge. We have many cases of people from the Northeast being attacked, mocked, robbed and raped. Most of the Northeastern people coming back from the main land have horror tales about harassment and intimidation. But the people in the country in whichever direction one may point, harbours a feeling of being a native and sometimes an outsider as well. Easily look over, but suspect racist tendencies in the nation sometimes result in various nationals from Africa being attacked in the process making national as well as international news. There are some people and articles who asked whether we are racist?
Of course, nobody wants to participate in the debate and sweep it under the proverbial carpet. We also have trigger happy extremist groups in the northeast who target migrants from mainland India. We can’t say that it is a case of tit for tat, it a case of large scale national problem. After 70 years of independence we still have problems of calling ourselves Indians. The government can do very little about it other than treating its symptomatic violent appearance like that happened in Shillong. Now, it is up to the intellectuals, mostly, with the government as the facilitator, who will have to ensure that the aged old prejudices are dispelled from our psyche to prepare that ground for a feeling of oneness. With so many ethnic groups, thousands of languages and religion in India the job will be a rough one. The intellectuals can’t overtly work for the cause, they will have to do it in such a way that people of his community and ethnicity do not feel threatened. Otherwise, the next time, the intellectuals will become the target.