One of the most peaceful and pleasant cities of India, Shillong, has been caught up in sectarian violence. After three days of unrest, Shillong had a few peaceful hours on Sunday — only to be disturbed by violence that erupted again in defiance of the curfew in the evening.
India with her diverse cultures has always been a melting pot of multiple languages, traditions, foods and much else. This is what makes India by far and away the most unique nation-state on the planet; her natural diversity and the fact that for the most part tensions between communities have been kept to a minimum. But, unfortunately they often do tend to flare up. And in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, over the past few days the simmering tension between locals and Sikh immigrants from Punjab has boiled over into uncontrolled rioting catching a young and inexperienced Chief Minister unawares and on the back foot.
Shillong has for many years been one of India’s most serene State capitals although in recent years it also has faced the challenges of modern life, namely traffic and pollution. Yet, the recent violence is not something out of the ordinary. In the past, anti-immigrant violence has been directed at Bengalis and the current violence which might have begun over a parking dispute was one that had been simmering for a while as the local Khasi community blamed outsiders for ‘stealing their jobs’ and felt they were a cultural risk. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, educated in New Delhi and very much a modern politician, has rapidly deployed State and Central forces to keep the riots in check after they spiralled in the initial hours. However, more needs to be done to keep matters in control.
But this is not a problem that will be restricted to Shillong in the future — as jobs become difficult to come by, the battle between locals who feel deprived of opportunities and immigrants from other States will become a huge issue across India. Immigrants, even when they are domestic migrants, tend to work harder and in a situation where jobs are difficult to come by will happily move to where the opportunities are. Locals will feel that immigrants will not only steal their jobs but also impose their cultural values. The Shiv Sena in the 1960s introduced this nativist ‘cultural’ protection’ philosophy as agitprop and local politicians across States as diverse as Goa, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir have exacerbated the issue over the past decade, often adding a communal tinge to it as well. These challenges will only intensify going forward and a single Chief Minister cannot deal with it. This issue needs a national solution, where we should all be reminded that we are Indians first and foremost. That said, the tendency of communities to ghettoise must be countered because these tend to make matters even worse. There is, however, no quick-fix. An integrationist philosophy coupled with an emphasis on a quantum leap in economic opportunities is the only solution.
Courtesy: The Pioneer