ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mismanagement of Land in Meghalaya

Root of Communal Tensions

The recent clashes in Shillong between the indigenous Khasis and the minority Dalit Sikh community, cannot be dismissed as merely communal identity politics at play. The roots of the conflict, beneath overtones of tribal assertion, have much to do with the unique land distribution in the state, and the challenges that regulation presents.

Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is currently witnessing a violent conflict between the minority Dalit Sikhs and the local majority tribal Khasis (Sinha 2018). The recent conflict is not merely a problem of two communities at loggerheads due to their different group identities, but is essentially also an example of land (mis)management in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Shillong has a unique administrative set-up, which, barring a small ward area inside the capital being directly under the district administration, puts the capital city, like the rest of Meghalaya, under the purview of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The special constitutional provision is a unique instrumentality that recognises and legalises the tribal covet: “Land belongs to the people.” This is unlike the rest of India, where land, in general, belongs to the state. Despite the constitutional protection of the tribal idea of land, it is a severe bone of contention in Meghalaya, as is evident not only through the recent violent clashes, but through many more contestations in the Khasi Hills today. Although the recent contested land of Punjabi Lane is under the district administration’s governance, the root problems of land regulation and control are similar to the rest of the conflicts amongst communities, and between communities in the Khasi Hills today.

The source of the current conflict is in the dispute between a Dalit Sikh community—settled in Shillong by the British who brought them from Punjab to work as manual scavengers for their settlements—and the Khasi community. The Punjabi Lane settlement, it is claimed, was a result of a land settlement between the tribal chief Syiem of Mylliem in 1863, but since the 1970s–1980s, it has become a bone of contention, given its presence right in the middle of a commercial hub in a land-scarce Shillong.

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Updated On : 23rd Jul, 2018
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