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Current Affairs

Shillong’s dalit Sikhs

Date: 18 October 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The decision to relocate dalit Sikhs from Shillong’s Them lew Mawlong area, also called Punjabi Lane is facing opposition.

 

Background

The cabinet of the state had recently taken the decision. Many Sikh groups have opposed the move and termed the act illegal.

 

Details

The move has its origin in decades-old conflict between the local Khasi community and Sikhs regarding ownership of land.

 

The historical origin

  • The Punjabi dalit Sikhs were brought to Shillong by the British as manual scavengers and sweepers more than 100 years ago.

  • About 300 families of these group lives in the Them lew Mawlong, located near Shillong’s commercial hub, Iewduh or Bara Bazaar.

  • The first group to come to Meghalaya was Mazhabis along with military contingent, to work as sweepers. 

  • The Ramgarhias (carpenters, blacksmiths and masons) came next, followed by the Soniars or goldsmiths, who came after 1947.

  • Large number of Mazhabis were employed by the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) but now the numbers have come down drastically.

 

The dispute

  • Clashes took place between Khasis and Punjabis regarding the land owned by the Urban Affairs Department.

  • The Punjabis say that the land was gifted to them by the Syiem (chief) of Hima Mylliem, which was one of the chiefdoms in Khasi Hills.

  • The Meghalaya government has now planned to move permanent employees of the SMB to constructed quarters.

 

Reason for dispute

  • The local Khasi body says that the land is part of commercial district of city and it should not be used for residential purposes.

  • They argue that the lane already witnesses traffic jams and it needs expansion. The land could also be converted to parking area to reduce congestion.