With a localised altercation morphing into an ethnic violence, Shillong has been pushed to the edge once again. And since the authorities did not discount the role of social media in spreading rumours and false information, two versions of Thursday’s incident started doing the rounds, resulting in the current atmosphere. Local pressure groups – Khasi Students Union (KSU), Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP), and Hynniewtrep National Youth Front (HNYF) – have come out demanding that the residents of Punjabi Lane be relocated.
One version of the event narrated was that a bus struck a woman who was crossing the road. An altercation ensued when the driver used foul and abusive language towards the woman. Residents from the locality appeared and accosted the driver, after which the police appeared and a compromise was worked out. Another version placed the blame on the woman who refused to listen to the driver who asked her to walk around the bus. She then used abusive language and the altercation took place wherein the driver was beaten by residents of the locality. Once the police arrived, the matter was resolved.
The tension, however, began in the evening when rumours on social media reported that the driver had succumbed to his injuries and died. In the evening, bus drivers descended upon the locality and began pelting stones. The police personnel on duty were also pelted, after which reinforcements were requested. It was only after the riot police used water cannons and tear gas that the rioting was contained. However, the violence resumed on Friday, despite a curfew being announced. The residents of the locality fled and took shelter in the Gurdwara, as well as, in the police camp, for the night. Since the incident, non-locals have been attacked by 'unknown miscreants' around Nongstoin.
The KSU and other organisations have issued statements demanding that the culprits be apprehended and brought to justice. They have also demanded that the area be cleared and that the residents be relocated. One reason for evicting the residents cited was that the area was originally intended for employees of the Shillong Municipal Board. However, other persons settled in the locality over time. The groups have alleged that the area was not intended to be a residential area and that the people now residing there are living in unhygienic conditions and should be moved to another area. The flare-up was originally due to an altercation and some rumour mongering, however, the statements of the pressure groups sound more like it is a land dispute.