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Bridges bridge gaps, not always. Sometimes they create divide. The bridge in question is at Motphran, Shillong. The 30-year-young bridge over the ever-busy road has been termed “unsafe” by the authorities, prompting issue of an evacuation order. Traders, mostly women, have to vacate the bridge. Their resentment – evident as the famous market joint attracts thousands of customers every day – led to a demand for another eviction, just a few hundred metres away. Sweeper Lane or Iew Mawlong has been a bone of contention for successive governments. A plan to replace the Harijan colony there into a market complex is yet to materialise. The Harijans, brought by the British, have refused to relocate to a housing complex already constructed to rehabilitate them. The Khasi district council has now revived the issue of relocating the Harijans, to make way for the market complex. While indigenous traders are at receiving end at the bridge, the new demand threatens a large-scale displacement of the Harijans. The bridge is about to widen the divide between the indigenous and those who are not.

Violation of rights of non-indigenous people has been a perennial problem in f the state of Meghalaya and for that matter in all other tribal-dominated states or regions of the North-east. Although the fresh demand for removal of the Harijans from the heart of the city is legitimate from many angles, the alleged idea of accommodating indigenous traders in the area does not sound democratic either. None would contest the argument that Sweeper Lane has been an eyesore of the city. The inmates of the shanties are not as poor as their houses look from outside. The reason for not investing on the house is insecurity. A threat of losing the battle and being evicted always looms over them. With the Motphran over-bridge in question now, pressure has mounted on them to vacate the area and shift to the housing complex.

Shifting of the Harijans from Sweeper Lane will no doubt give more room for Iewduh to expand and bring a solution to the congestion in the city’s oldest and largest traditional market. It will accommodate all the indigenous traders including those from Motphran over-bridge. But, has anyone thought that the Harijans too have the right to live in the now-prime area, which was not so when they had settled there in the British era? Had there been an age-old colony of an indigenous community, would the government or the council make a similar move? All these questions are brought to the fore by the ‘vulnerable’ bridge.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 13, 2014)

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