Meghalaya: Shillong Under Curfew Following Mob Attacks on Police Personnel
By: Sashwata Saha
As the rest of India celebrated the nation’s 75th independence, Shillong, the capital city of the hilly state of Meghalaya, remained under military curfew after mob violence broke out in the wake of the police encounter of Chesterfield Thangkhiew, a former militant of the outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).
Vandalism, arson and mob attacks on security personnel rocked Shillong on Sunday. The city has been placed under curfew until August 18. Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui resigned, calling for a judicial probe into the encounter “to bring out the truth”. Internet services have been blocked for 72 hours in four districts, and central forces have been deployed.
The chaos can be traced to August 10, when at around 1.30 pm, a loud blast tore through the city neighbourhood of Laitumkhrah. The police’s bomb disposal discovered that a small improvised explosive device (IED) had caused the explosion. Two people were injured in the attack. The HNLC claimed credit for the attack. The group has been inactive for over a decade now.
The violence was followed by a police raid on the residence of former HNLC general secretary Thangkhiew, where Meghalaya DGP R Chandranathan told The Indian Express that they had gone, based on “clinching evidence” of his involvement, and a tip-off that another blast was being planned. “We went to pick him but this unfortunate thing happened.”
The unfortunate thing being the shooting of the 56-year-old Thangkhiew in his bedroom. The raiding officers claim that Thangkhiew tried to attack them with a knife when they tried to arrest him. Thangkhiew was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Post mortem reports accessed by PTI found a single round in his body.
Thangkhiew’s sons, both of who lived with him, have trashed the police’s version of events. They have described their father’s killing as a “cold-blooded murder”. Local youths soon rallied around the two and began the first protest march on Friday afternoon. Their claims and demands for a judicial or CBI probe into the encounter have found strong political backing.
The violence of the protests reached its peak on Independence Day when a group of masked men attacked a four cop unit in broad daylight, stole their SUV, took their rifles, donned their kevlar vests, drove the vehicle around the city displaying black flags, shouting secessionist lines. They eventually set the car on fire outside a police station.
On Sunday, the state’s Home Minister Lakhmen Rymbui of the local United Democratic Party gave his resignation to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma. The Sangma regime is a BJP aligned coalition. That night, Sangma’s private residence also came under attack when a petrol bomb was thrown into the compound. The CM and his family do not currently resident here.
According to the Centre for Development and Peace Studies (CDPS), an independent research centre in Assam, insurgency in Meghalaya “started as a movement against the domination of the ‘dkhars’ (outsiders)”. Thangkhiew, himself, founded the state’s first prominent separatist militant tribal organisation, the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), in the 1980s,
‘Hynniewtrep’ refers to the Khasi and Jaintia communities, and ‘Achik’ to the Garo community. The HALC later split into HNLC, which represented the Khasis and the Jaintias, advocating for a complete separation from India, and the Achik Matgrik Liberation Army, which represented the Garos, and was subsequently replaced by the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC).
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