Most government offices and shops in Shillong were closed on Friday as five pressure groups called for a “non-cooperation day” to protest against the recent violence on the Assam-Meghalaya border.
On November 22, five civilians and an Assam forest guard were killed as the Assam Police opened fire after an altercation. The two states give conflicting versions of the incident, including where it took place. According to Assam, it happened in West Karbi Anglong district’s “Mukhrow” village. Meghalaya claims the same place as “Mukroh” village, part of its West Jaintia Hills district.
The incident has touched off old tensions between the two states, which have a long-running border dispute.
The five groups calling for “non-cooperation” day are the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People, the Khasi Students’ Union, the Hynniewtrep National Youth Front, the Ri Bhoi Youth Federation and the Jaintia Students’ Union. They demanded the “arrest of all those” involved in the firing incident.
In the three days since the shooting, Meghalaya has seen incidents of arson, sit-in protests that turned violent and panic buying of petrol. Residents feared the state would run out of stocks as the Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union refused to transport fuel to Meghalaya since tensions were running high. They only resumed supplies on Friday, loading 100 oil tankers after having been assured of security by the Assam government.
Meanwhile, in Meghalaya, mobile internet remains suspended in seven districts. Some residents of Shillong have started growing restive about the actions of pressure groups.
Fires and protests
Since the shooting, at least three vehicles from outside Meghalaya have been torched in different places in the state and several cases of stone pelting have been reported, the police said.
On Thursday, the five pressure groups organised a sit-in protest and a candlelight vigil near the Shillong Civil Hospital that eventually turned violent. Some protesters from the candlelight vigil barged into the hospital premises, attacking three women police constables. A traffic booth near the hospital was reportedly dismantled. A bus requisitioned by the police and a jeep were torched while stones and petrol bombs were hurled at the police, reports said.
A student from Assam studying at the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong told Scroll.in that they had been advised not to go outside.
“We are safe on campus,” he said. “It’s still under control and the administration is trying their best. I have some Assamese friends outside [the campus], they informed me that they are fine too.”
Still, journalists in the city raised questions about the government response to the situation.
“There is panic and insecurity here in Shillong city,” said Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times. “All the shops in the GS Road and Police Bazar areas of Shillong were closed on Friday because of the protest. People are also taking advantage of the coming elections. We don’t know which group is used by which politicians. All politicians are silent when they should call for peace.”
She said if the Meghalaya government could not control the law and order situation, it should “step aside” to make way for president’s rule.
“It looks as if there is no law and order,” Mukhim said. “The SBI branch at Dhankheti was working today [Friday]. But these pressure groups went there and closed it down. There was no one to stop them. Anyone can do anything.”
In an earlier post on Facebook, Mukhim had demanded why no one had been arrested for Thursday’s violence and why the police could not ensure enough security for shops and business establishments to remain open.
A Shillong-based journalist who did not want to be named said that the government was “helpless” against the pressure groups, which were strong in numbers and spread out across the state.
“If they take action, things will flare up in other parts of the state,” he said. “These groups are very powerful.”
‘The loss is ours’
Angela Rangad, member of a civil society organisation called Thma U Rangli Juki, objected to the protests because they had led to the “destruction of public property and attacks on other fellow citizens”. She also said obstructing vehicles from Assam would increase the prices of essential commodities.
The blockade had already affected tourism and everyone who depends on it – owners of rural homestays, tea shops, guides, taxi drivers.
“So the loss is ours,” Rangad said in a statement issued on Friday.
“This is wrong and unacceptable. Violence is not the answer to violence. Why did candlelight vigil attendees storm [a] civil hospital shattering glass and chasing women police?... These are acts of rowdy troublemakers who did not think of the patients nor the passersby and all of us should condemn what happened last evening. Their intent was to cause trouble, not to show concern for Mukroh or to press for government action.”
She added that the “administration should not pander to groups whose activities always lead to chaos on the streets”.
Meanwhile, the Assam police continued to advise people from the state to avoid visiting Meghalaya, especially in vehicles bearing Assam number plates.