Sikh delegation reaches Meghalaya and asks Guv to intervene in relocation decision

Keeping the pressure on the Meghalaya government to revoke its decision to relocate Sikh Dalit residents from the Them lew Mawlong area to Shillong, a delegation from the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) requested the intervention on Thursday the governor of Meghalaya, Satya Pal Malik, in this case.

“We shared our concerns and he assured us that no injustice would be done and that residents would not be illegally evicted,” DSGMC chairman Manjinder Singh Sirsa told Indian Express.

A four-member team, led by Sirsa – who is also the national spokesperson for Shiromani Akali Dal – met with Malik at his official residence in Shillong earlier Thursday afternoon. “He said he had already raised the matter with Chief Minister Meghalaya Conrad Sangma as well,” Sirsa said, adding that they could not meet with the chief minister because he was out of town.

The decision by the Sangma-led cabinet on October 7 to relocate the area’s Sikh community, also known as Punjabi Lane, based on recommendations made by a high-level committee, sparked protests from locals, who claimed they had lived in the area since the 1850s, after being brought in by the British to work as scavengers and sweepers in the area.

While the government claims the land belongs to the Department of Urban Affairs, Sikhs say the land was “offered” to them by the Syiem (chief) of Hima Mylliem – one of the chiefdoms of Khasi Hills – in the 1850s .

The land conflict had been brewing for decades, with sections of Meghalaya society and political organizations demanding that residents be moved to another area. It took a violent turn in May 2018, leading to clashes between local Khasis and Sikhs in the region, after which a high-level committee was formed to address the issue.

While Sikh groups have called the move “illegal”, “unfair” and “unconstitutional”, leaders say they will raise the issue with Union Home Minister Amit Shah , the government of Meghalaya has remained firm on its decision so far. On Monday, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong told the Indian Express that they had “done due diligence” on the matter.

Sirsa said that since a standstill was ordered by the Meghalaya High Court on April 9, 2021 based on a petition filed by Sikh groups in 2018, the high-level committee did not have the power to make such a decision. “Residents cannot be relocated without following due process,” he said.

In a statement to Malik, DSGMC – an autonomous organization that manages Gurudwaras, hospitals, educational institutions and the welfare of Sikhs – that the decision of the Meghalaya government to take “possession” of the land is an action aimed at “provoking clashes” that can “spiral into violent unrest.

He also added that the Meghalaya government asking the Department of Urban Affairs to draw up a rehousing plan could lead to inciting residents, “without even giving them the opportunity to say anything”.

“The government’s unilateral decision on behalf of the illegal settlers is highly unconstitutional in nature and despite instructions from the High Hon’ble Court, they keep moving forward,” he added.

Gurjit Singh, chairman of the Harijan Panchayat committee, which represents members of the Dalit Sikh community in Shillong, said they felt “more confident” after the DSGMC meeting with Malik. “We hope the government will reverse its decision,” he said.