Tribune News Service
Shillong, June 13
Carbine-wielding CRPF personnel guard the entry and exit points of Shillong’s Punjabi Lane from the Police Bazaar side.
The CRPF has been deployed there recently after the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), a banned terrorist outfit claiming to represent the interests of the Khasis and Jaintia people of Meghalaya, threatened the Punjabi Lane Sikhs of dire consequences if they tried to resist the government attempt to evict them.
This is one of the rare occasions when a terror outfit has stepped in to ensure the implementation of a government initiative.
“The Meghalaya government and terrorists are on the same page as far as we are concerned,” says Bharat Singh, a resident of the colony. Bharat Singh’s TV repairing shop has been shut for a year now like many other shops of the neighbourhood that downed their shutters after last June’s riots in the area.
While the residents of Punjabi Lane are far from rich, the area, being close to Shillong’s commercial hub Police Bazaar, may be worth a fortune.
“Eviction notices were given in 1987, a mob had attacked the colony in 1992, we were asked to prove ownership in 1994, Lal Singh was murdered in 1995…,” Gurjit Singh, secretary of the Harijan Colony Panchayat, loses count as he tries to recall the unending series of ordeals that have made the lives of the Sikh residents of Punjabi Lane an unending saga of trouble.
According to Gurjit Singh, the settlement of Sikhs in Shillong dates back to the period before 1863. The local tribal chief gave the land to the Sikhs who came with British colonialists.
“Originally our forefathers were given 2.5 acres of land. But we are left with only 1.75 acres of land now. Around 2,000 to 2,500 Sikhs live in the locality,” Gurjit Singh, who is also headmaster of the local Guru Nanak Dev Upper Primary School, says.
The latest attack on the Punjabi Lane Sikhs has come in the form of notices given to residents by the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) to prove by July 3 their ownership of the land.
The notices were issued on May 31 after the Meghalaya Deputy CM Prestone Tynsong-led high powered committee constituted to look into the issue of relocation of the Punjabi Lane Sikhs submitted its report.
Gurjit Singh and his associates are hoping that the Centre will persuade the Meghalaya government to allow the Punjabi Lane Sikhs to stay in the locality where they have been living for generations. They are pinning their hopes on a meeting that MHA officials are slated to have today with the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya in Delhi to discuss the issue.
“The Meghalaya High Court also gave an order in February saying the state government should not disturb the Punjabi Lane Sikhs till the time civil courts were approached and titles decided,” Gurjit Singh said.
He warned that contempt petition would be filed in the High Court against the CEO of Shillong Municipal Board if the latest notice asking the residents to prove their ownership of land was not withdrawn.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma will hold a meeting with stakeholders next week to allay fears among Sikhs and Punjabis in Shillong, DSGMC Chief Manjinder Sirsa said in a tweet.
“CN @SangmaConrad Ji has been kind enough to monitor the situation constantly. He has informed MHA that he will be a holding a meeting with all stakeholders in next week to find a befitting solution. CM Sangma has assured that Sikhs/Punjabis of Shillong hv nothing to fear about," the tweet said.
The development follows DSGMC delegation meeting with Home Ministry officials earlier on Thursday.
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