The alleged encounter killing of a former extremist had stirred passions, leading to unrest on Independence Day
A semblance of normality returned to Shillong on Wednesday with the local authorities relaxing the curfew, imposed on Independence Day after a string of violence related to the death of a former extremist in an alleged fake encounter, for 11 hours.
The COVID-19 protocols went for a toss as people scrambled to buy essentials soon after shops and business establishments started to open. The mad rush was expected as Shillong and other parts of Meghalaya have been under pandemic-induced restrictions for almost four months.
East Khasi Hills Deputy Commissioner Isawanda Laloo said the curfew was relaxed from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. in view of the improvement in the law-and-order. Shillong is also the headquarters of this district.
Officials said the curfew will remain in place from 4 p.m. on Wednesday to 5 a.m. on Thursday and the relaxation hours may be increased depending on the situation. Essential and non-essential shops would remain open till 3 p.m. until further orders.
Schools, colleges, banks and government and private offices, which had obtained permission to function with 30% people, too were asked to close by 3 p.m.
Wednesday also saw a government-constituted peace committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong hold a meeting with the traditional heads of Shillong’s trouble-scarred localities. “We have sought their cooperation in ensuring lasting peace,” he said.
Genesis of the unrest
The trigger for Sunday’s violence was the killing of former extremist leader Cheristerfield Thangkhiew by the police in an alleged fake encounter on August 13. His funeral two days later coincided with the official Independence Day programme in Shillong.
Thangkhiew was the former general secretary of the outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), said to have regrouped over the months. Members of the group allegedly triggered two IED blasts — one in Shillong and the other in East Jaintia Hills district headquarters Khliehriat a few days ago.
Meghalaya’s police chief R. Chandranathan said they had “clinching evidence” of Thangkhiew’s involvement in the blasts and a team had accordingly gone to his residence in Shillong’s Mawlai area to arrest him on August 13. The police claimed Thangkhiew attacked the team with a knife, forcing them to open fire in self-defence.
The HNLC’s birth in 1992 is rooted in the fear of the indigenous communities, primarily the matrilineal Khasis, that ‘dkhars’ (outsiders) would take over their land and lives. This fear also drives political aspirations in Meghalaya and dictates the rhetoric of pressure groups.
The killing of Thangkhiew, viewed as a community hero by many, is believed to have touched a raw nerve leading to the breakdown in law-and-order on Sunday, during which several vehicles were damaged and miscreants resorted to arson and looting. At least three INSAS rifles of the police were also snatched.
“We are trying to locate the firearms and hope to get them soon,” East Khasi Hills district’s SP Sylvester Nongtnger told The Hindu.
Senior Congress MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh slammed the National People’s Party-led coalition government — BJP is a minor ally in it — for the shoddy handling of the situation and running the State without a Home Minister during a crisis.
Lakhmen Rymbui had quit as the Home Minister after the violence on Sunday, owning moral responsibility for the situation arising out of Thangkhiew’s killing. “We are yet to accept his resignation,” Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said.
Mr. Rymbui is an MLA of the regional United Democratic Party.
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