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Sweeping the sweepers of the city

By Sonie Kharduit

“Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means,” said Ronald Reagan. This statement and its relevance in our modern multi-ethnic societal setup cannot be overemphasized. Our state is not exempt from ethnic conflict. The anti-Bengali movement (1979), the anti- Nepalese (1987) are all ethnic cleansing campaigns, but, unfortunately, none had a conclusive end. The reasons might be attributed to their violent nature. Had the campaigns been peaceful they would have put more onus on the government to focus on particular issues rather than being engaged in fire fighting mission.  After all, the final decision will only come from a political framework.  It’s worth recollecting the peaceful protest by farmers recently in Maharashtra. It was such a good example of how an agitation is to be organised without affecting the daily lives of citizens.

Critically examining the Them Mawlong issue, one sees two versions emerging; each one blaming the other. What really happened at the site no one knows. Newspapers just report from random sources, hence no conclusion can be derived except the assault part which is evidence in itself. Police should have acted on that account and brought the perpetrator to book. Had the arrest been made from day one against all those who involved in the assault, irrespective of gender, followed by a swift investigation for the causal factor, the story would have been different. By not doing so, when the violence erupted, the whole focus diverted to maintaining law and order.  It was a knee-jerk reaction while the real issues were inadequately addressed.

This is no stereotyping but the Harijan lane is well known for anti-social activities. Passers-by do feel insecure while negotiating through this place especially at night. But I must say those who committed such acts are usually the few spoiled brats; the whole community cannot be blamed as such. The Harijan community is known its contribution in sweeping the city roads for ages. Some of them are in Shillong for four to five generations Shillong and the city has become part of their history. In fact, sending them back to Punjab could fill the void of being attached to this city. The laxity on the part of administration in removing such anti-social elements for years only results in a full blown out anger channelize from the opportunity given by such incident.

Agitations and protests are necessary tools in a democratic process but violence had never been a successful tool to achieve any target. Moreover, it only causes delay and loss of focus. Understandably under frustration the citizens might ultimately resort to violent means, but this happens only because our political leaders were never sincere enough to represent the aspirations of people. The issue of relocating the Harijan community could have been resolved quite early had our leaders pursued it years ago when they were quite new in Shillong. Two centuries later when they are all settled, to ask them to shift somewhere else becomes a daunting task.

 I just wonder if the demand for relocating these people implicitly means relocating the crimes. Will the newly allotted space be safe? Will the receiving locality take them in good spirit? Anti-social elements are ubiquitous and borderless. We cannot pin- point a particular community for a particular crime. Our tribes are no strangers from crimes either, but then the whole tribe cannot be held accountable for such acts conducted by a few sleazy people.

 Administrative lapses now give room for opportunistic politics. The same people who neglected the issue during their tenure in government are the same persons who splash mud and start the defaming game. Citizens should be smart enough to analyse the different dimensions of political movements so as not to become instruments of the selfish motives of our political masters. In fact the public anger needs to be channelized towards them for their inactivity, lies and tall promises.

Another angle that people tend to overlook is the behaviour of our boys too. It’s no pride to claim that our boys are always well mannered. Various derogatory and obscene sexual comments on young girls either verbally or with gestures are quite common. This is no secret. The increasing number of women- centric crimes gives a hint that all is not well in our so called well-cultured society. The point of raising this angle is not to protect the perpetrator who committed the assault but it gives a different insight in understanding the crux of the problem. I believe if any such cheap advances are made on our girls definitely we would have reacted violently at that moment without thinking of the consequences.

Shillong city is cosmopolitan in character; it’s an extension of India’s diversity. Ushering this fact as our pride or curse is hard to say when this type of trouble appears. Problems which could be resolved through dialogues are instead sought to be settled by violence because we have never tried to understand the root cause in detail but suddenly jump on the bandwagon created by the prevailing sentiments insinuated through fake news. Today we have problems with the Harijans; tomorrow it may extend to another community as well. There are no guarantees as such that no ethnic conflict will happen in the future. Incidents like these can reappear suddenly at any time but allowing them to  develop into violent mass movements is not only an administrative failure but people too are equally responsible.

 Every section of the society is badly affected with curfew and sadly the poor are the worst hit. Prices of essential commodities have suddenly sky- rocketed and gone beyond the reach of many. Schools, colleges, public transportation are all affected. But more importantly a sense of fear engulfs the whole state. People residing outside the state too feel the heat for they might become the subject of ‘reverse racism’.  Hence as responsible citizens it would be wise to take a conscious decision before participating in any mass agitations. Violent routes need to be obviated at any cost because peaceful ones can also yield results if our intentions and mode are clear and incorruptible.

 The absence of religious leaders in the whole episode is quite astonishing; organizing prayers for political stability during elections is not worthwhile when they can’t come forward during such difficult times. Prayer in action is what people desire. Pledging for calmness, tolerance and restraint from violence could have shortened the sufferings. But then we can’t expect much from church either because they too have political inclinations. The coming to power of a non-Congress regime is equated with saffronisation from the church’s perspective.

Heterogeneity and diversity are the bare truths of Indian society. Likewise in Shillong city too we need to accept it and live with it. Our wants, desires, grievances and anger need to be well directed through our political leaders and they should be held accountable for that. Numerous governments have come and gone and none took any concrete steps in relocating the Sweeper’s Colony and as citizens too we might have forgotten the problem until it resurfaces.

How successful the High Level Committee will be in resolving this present crisis is a wait and watch game. No doubt it’s a nightmarish task for the members, considering the legal tangles involved. The government needs to present strong reasons for such moves, because the defendant will not allow a cake walk over this issue. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure; all these complications could have been avoided had successive governments taken adequate steps to remove the insecurity of people while passing through this congested slum. If people did not feel insecure, the demand for relocating this squalid alley would have not arisen either and the government would not have had to break its heads looking for solutions.

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