Guwahati: A rally to highlight unemployment by a civil society group claiming to represent the tribal groups of poll-bound Meghalaya turned violent in Shillong on Friday, with videos showing protesters going berserk and thrashing those coming in their way.
Led by the Federation of Khasi-Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP), hundreds of youths commenced their march from Motphran to reach the Fire Brigade Ground in Shillong.
What triggered the unruly scenes is unknown but videos soon started circulating on social media wherein rally participants were seen beating up bystanders, truck drivers and bike riders stuck in a traffic jam.
Social media users were aghast over the violence, which some describing it as “xenophobic”. In one of the videos, an injured tempo driver, visibly a non-tribal, was seen lying sprawled on the road after purportedly being beaten up.
According to a news report, a reporter of the local daily U Mawphor was assaulted for taking videos.
“Our demand is the immediate filling up of vacant posts in the government departments. We have also demanded a state employment policy so that the government can find avenues to give jobs in private and public sectors and give preference to locals,” FKJGP president Dundee Khongsit told ThePrint.
“We are sorry about these incidents. From the time the rally started, we had told everyone to ensure that there should be no violence. Then this violence was propagated by some miscreants,” Khongsit said.
All calls to East Khasi Hills Superintendent of Police (SP) Silvester Nongtnger and SP (City) Vivek Syiem went unanswered. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Unemployment & angst against non-tribals
Unemployment in Meghalaya has been a focus of several civil society groups. Last week, the Hynniewtrep National Youth Movement held a rally protesting the Meghalaya government’s delay in formulating a policy that ensures the employment of local youths in the private sector of the state.
“There was a recent RTI finding which revealed that there were over 7,000 vacant posts in government departments,” Khonsit said.
The Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos are the three major ethnic tribes in Meghalaya, where tribals comprise 86.15 per cent of the state population.
Lack of employment opportunities, experts have said, has often led to tensions between tribal and non-tribal groups.
Hostilities between indigenous and non-tribals goes a long way back. In 1979, about 20,000 Bengalis were displaced following attacks by Khasis.
Clashes had also broken out between Khasis and Sikhs of Shillong in 2018, the year when National People’s Party (NPP) president Conrad Sangma formed a coalition government with the help of regional parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an independent MLA. The Northeast state will go to polls in early 2023.
Commenting on the violence that had taken place in 2018, Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim had told The Times of India that there was a perception that jobs were being taken away by more competitive and competent “outsiders”.
Ethnic politics, she added, could also have fueled the perception that the “indigene must have first right to everything”.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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