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Youths’ assault in Shillong locality takes tribal-nontribal colour, columnist faces FIR

Kolkata Bengali organisation writes to Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on ‘assault on Bengalis’

Shillong: A person’s misjudgement can turn a flicker into an engulfing flame. This is exactly what has happened in the recent case of assault of six youths in a Khasi locality in Shillong city, Meghalaya.

The incident took place on July 3 in a basketball court in Lawsohtun, a locality in Mylliem Assembly constituency. A group of about 20 boys attacked another group of nine youths who went there to play basketball. The latter group was from Laban, a nearby area that falls under South Shillong Assembly constituency. According to a 23-year-old victim’s narrative, the attack was sudden and lethal because those carrying plastic pipes, wooden poles and rods were targeting the head and face.

The victim also narrated how they never faced any warning or threat while playing in the locality because “some local boys are friends”.

Fights, even lethal, are not uncommon among youths anywhere in the world. But in this case, coincidentally, the victims were all Bengalis and the attackers allegedly mostly tribals, but as they were wearing masks, the victims could not identify them. Those whose faces were visible were unknown to the victims, the 23-year-old youth said.

This prompted a prominent media personality in the state to comment on Facebook about victimisation of non-tribals in the state. “CM Meghalaya, what happened yesterday at Lawsohtun where some non-tribal youth playing Basketball were assaulted with lethal weapons and are now in hospital, is unacceptable in a state with a Government and a functional police force. The attackers, allegedly tribal boys with masks on and should be immediately booked. This continued attack on non-tribals in Meghalaya whose ancestors have lived here for decades, some having come here since the British period is reprehensible to say the least,” a July 4 post by senior journalist, columnist and editor of The Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim said.

Though she mentioned “allegedly tribal boys”, common social media users with no journalistic background overlooked the word ‘allegedly’ and the comment took a communal colour. This led to local NGOs to start a campaign #boycotttheshillongtimes and #boycottpatriciamukhim. It subsequently led to FIRs against Mukhim.

A slew of Facebook posts by Mukhim followed this and in one, she wrote, “If you are not speaking up on issues and not taking a stand then Facebook is a cosy little bubble, otherwise it’s a demonic space where people you don’t know judge you like they have known you intimately..”

First, for a journalist, speaking out on Facebook is not a part of the modus operandi. Second, the case is being investigated and not all the miscreants were identified. So without a little investigation or ground work and without speaking to victims or attackers’ families, one cannot make a sensitive comment, especially in a state with a chequered history of communal violence.

The concern here should have been how and why the youths (some of the attackers were reportedly teenagers) of a society have turned so violent, and why there is a rise in crime of all forms in the state. There is no doubt that the attack was lethal and condemnable but it was a crime and should be dealt with stringently. If the young generation of a society, race, tribe or community is turning rogue, then it is the responsibility of all to introspect and act likewise.

Mukhim is a well-known face not only in the state but outside. In fact, she represents the Khasi tribe outside Meghalaya. Her words, in print or on social media, are important and have impact. The impact of her message was such that a Kolkata-based Bengali organisation, Amra Bangali, has already sent letters to Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and his Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee.

A person of her stature should have been judicious in using words, and in a sensitive incident such as this, she should have at least tried to find out the truth from the victims, if not from both parties.

True, a fear lingers among non-tribals here, which is the result of the past violence. There were some incidents in the recent past too. A section of the non-tribals living here have ambivalent feelings about the locals. But emulating the dark history is not the intention of any society as this only creates hurdles on the way to development and empowerment. Those people whose voices matter should strive to change the society’s perspective by constantly reminding them about the fatal consequences of the past blunders and not add a shade of the darkness to an already heinous criminal act, unless otherwise it is proved to be so, which may or may not be so.

A middle-aged Khasi woman, during a discussion about the assault, said, “It is high time we stop this communal intolerance. We the common people do not want this violence anymore.”

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