The leaders of various Churches in northeastern India have expressed deep pain and anguish at the recent violent incidents that shattered peace in Shillong, capital of Meghalaya state.
Heads of the United Christian Forum and the North East Christian Council met June 6 in Guwahati to review the situation and seek ways to restore peace and harmony in the city, known as the Scotland of the East.
They met amid attempts by certain section of the media and groups to project the incidents as clashes between Christians and Sikhs in Shillong.
Meghalaya is one of the three Christian-majority states in northeastern India.
The leaders are “concerned at the continued tension that prevails due to fear, mistrust and circulation of fake news,” says a press release issued by Allen Brooks, spokesperson of the Northeast unit of the United Christian Forum.
The Church leaders have requested their people to pray and work for peace. They also appealed to all concerned people to shun violence and “seek the path of dialogue” to find a lasting and peaceful solution to an age-old problem that triggered the latest violence.
The Church leaders also resolved to cooperate and support all efforts at peace building, Brooks told Matters India.
At the meeting, the North East India Christian Council was represented by its president Reverend Zelhou Keyo and vice president Reverend Solomon Rongpi and the Northeast India unit of the United Christian Forum by its president Bishop Thomas Pullopillil of Bongaigaon and secretary Reverend Lalnunzira.
Meanwhile Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong too denied that the incidents had any communal color.
“The present disturbed situation in Shillong arose out of an incident that was initially resolved,” the Salesian prelate told Matters India on June 6.
It all began at 9:30 on May 30 with an altercation between a Punjabi woman and workers of mini buses that ply on the Shillong roads. A bus was parked on the road, waiting for passengers. The bus stand was near “Sweepers Colony,” a Punjabi enclave in downtown Shillong. The woman, who had gone to fetch water, alleged that the bus blocked way to her enclave.
After she went away, a young man from the enclave came and assaulted the bus workers in the bus. One boy was wounded and was taken to the hospital that discharged him after first aid.
“This matter was amicably settled among all the persons involved,” the prelate explained.
However, some people used social media platforms to spread a false news that they boy had died. A crowd soon gathered and began moving the Sweepers’ Colony. The mini bus drivers also got together to protest against the incident.
“The district and state administration moved in quickly and got the police to control the crowd. Curfew was declared that eventually helped contain the situation,” Archbishop Jala explained.
On June 3, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh sent a four-member team to Shillong. The team assessed the situation in the troubled areas and offered help to Sikh community there. On the same day, an Akali Dal team from Delhi visited Shillong and met Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and Sikh residents of troubled Punjabi Lane.
“The chief minister has informed us all that the Sikh leaders were assured that this was not a Khasi versus Sikh conflict and that the Sikh community agreed with this,” the archbishop explained.
Khasi people, a major tribe in Meghalaya, dominate the Shillong area.
Archbishop Jala noted that no loss of life or damage to property happened during the violence.
“The main gurdwara in Shillong and the gurdwara in the colony have not been harmed in any way. Neither have any of our Sikh community members in the rest of Shillong faced any problem,” the archbishop said.
The enclave also has a Hindu temple and church belonging to the Church of North India.
According to the Catholic prelate, the issue is over a long standing demand to vacate the Punjabi Lane and relocation of those employed by the municipality. “This is the main issue that needs to be resolved by the government,” Archbishop Jala said.
The government, he added, has already set up a high level committee to resolve the matter.
The Meghalaya chief minister had discussion with all political leaders in the state, civil leaders and leaders of various NGOs.
He also met with various religious leaders to seek their suggestions to restore peace and harmony in Shillong.
Archbishop Jala said the religious leaders applauded the government efforts to deal with situation “showing restraint and ensuring that there was no loss of human life.”
The religious leaders assured the government their prayers and offered to collaborate in its efforts to bring harmony and peace, the Catholic prelate said.