Tribune News Service
Shillong, June 21
“We will stay in Meghalaya till we can live with our head held high,” says Bhanwar Nain Singh Didan, a rich Sikh businessman in Shillong.
Besides Punjabi Lane, Sikhs live in Ghora Lane, an up-market place, and are settled in posh areas all over the state.
While Punjabi Lane Sikhs are in direct conflict with the locals over ownership rights, others, including Didan, have suffered losses in violence or tension triggered from Punjabi Lane. His office was smashed and his Renault Duster burnt by an angry mob last year.
Didan runs two hotels besides a construction company leased out to him by locals. He came to the state in 1960, more than a century after the Punjabi Lane residents had reached the state to take up employment as scavengers offered by the British.
“You can run a business here if a local is your partner. To outsiders, owning a property is not allowed. A trader’s licence is given only through locals,” he said.
Unlike the Punjabi Lane residents, whose street is called Hadrian colony or a slum by the local media, many Sikhs have a rich lifestyle and have employed many.
After Home Minister James K Conrad assured Sikhs were safe in the state, Didan said it was more about respect. “We have helped the state grow with our investment in the past six decades. We employ locals but it hurts when they call us outsiders. I will leave if we don’t get the respect we deserve.” His children are settled in the US. “The next generation doesn’t want to stay here,” he said.
Sunny Gill from Sherpur village near Khanna, Punjab, runs “Sardarji ka Dhaba” on the Shillong-Guwahati road. He had opened it two years ago but suffered badly after it was attacked last year. “I feel we are welcome only when some enterprise work is needed. Once we set it up, we become targets.”
Local mediapersons and government officials say it's not about Sikhs versus Khasis. “Hadrian Colony is overpopulated now as old settlers have invited many relatives over the years. The new settlers are illegal dwellers, besides being a civic problem as they have encroached upon public land and built houses in already congested street,” they said
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