There is a special significance of the Harmony Meet held every year before the Durga Puja in Shillong. Representatives of all religions come for a get together and speak about the need for maintaining peace. For a newcomer this meet would look like a promotion of Durga Puja. Everyone talks about visiting the Puja pandals. Religious heads of all communities attend the meet without fail. They talk about how all religions preach about peace and unity despite maintaining their identity. There would not have been any Harmony Meet, had there been no dark history of brutal torture on the minority non-tribal community in Meghalaya, especially Shillong. Being the headquarters of North-east in the British era, Shillong had a cosmopolitan population decades ago. In fact, there was a time when there were not many indigenous people, compared to the ‘outsiders’, who set up businesses and offices in the capital town.
The trouble in Shillong began in the late 70s’ and early 80s’. A separate state ‘Meghalaya’ was born comprising then Khasi-Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills districts of Assam in 1972. There was a massive exodus of non-tribal people, mostly Assamese, from the hills to the plains of Assam. Mostly government employees relocated, but those having businesses preferred to stay back. The anti-outsider movement took violent form with incidents like non-tribals being burnt alive.
Such incidents took place as late as 2013 when pressure groups launched a movement demanding inner line permit (ILP) system in the state to check influx of ‘outsiders’. Two businessmen were burnt alive by as pro-ILP activists threw petrol bombs at the victims while the latter were sitting in their shops. Even Puja pandals were targeted by miscreants during that year although there was no casualty. The Puja celebrations are very solemn affair in Shillong, unlike other parts of the country. Revelers blowing toy horns and chanting religious hymns on the loudspeaker till late night is an unimaginable scene in the city.
The violence perpetrated from time to time against the minority non-tribals, mostly Hindus, in the Christian dominated state has prompted the Puja organisers to involve influential tribal people in the celebrations to ensure peace during the festivals. The response of the local leaders besides representatives from various religions has been commendable. This year’s Harmony Meet was attended by governor V Sangumanathan and home minister Roshan Warjri among others. Such meetings have been instrumental in promoting the cause of the non-tribal community. In fact, there should be more such meetings for various festivals across religions so that people from different religions take part in festivals of other religions. This would further strengthen the bond of communal harmony and ensure non-recurrence of the incidents that Shillongites want to forget.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on October 24, 2015)