Shillong (Meghalaya), Nov 18 : The Bengalis residing in the state for ages have urged the state Chief Minister , Conrad Sangma to take proactive steps to secure ”fundamental, constitutional and legal rights” to all citizens residing in the State.
The members of the community on Tuesday submitted a memorandum to chief minister Conrad Sangma.
THE MEMORANDUM :
The 13th November 2020
Sri Conrad K. Sangma,
Hon’ble Chief Minister,
Government of Meghalaya,
Re: Memorandum on behalf of Bengali residents of Meghalaya
Most respectfully, we the undersigned, who are bonafide Indian Citizens residing in Meghalaya as integral part of this unique State, make the following submission for your kind perusal and necessary action:
That sir, in the light of the recent attempt at dubbing all Bengali-speaking residents of Mehalaya as “Bangladeshis”, we are shocked, pained and take umbrage at such an audacious statement. We, therefore, feel provoked to recall our long association with the Hill people of Meghalaya even prior to the advent of the British Raj. It is sad to witness these misplaced vilification campaign despite a long history of our mutual co-existence. It
is imperative to place on record that for centuries the Bengalis have had nurtured an umbilical relationship with the Khasis, the Garos and the Jaintias who are the natives ofthis place. Long before the British arrived here, the tribes had developed trade and cultural ties with the Bengalis of Sylhet, Mymensing and the adjoining areas. Much later, the British made Cherrapunjee their seat of administration and subsequently chose to shift to Shillong, which later on became the Capital of the composite province of Assam that included the predominantly Bengali majority districts of Sylhet, Cachar and Goalpara, besides Assam Valley and the Hills. During those formative years, it was the Bengalis who came forward to assist in building infrastructure for the new Capital town, besides manning the government establishments in various capacities.
In that context it will beworthwhile to remember that our forefathers left their own homes and hearths to settle
in Shillong. Since then, we have lived here as inseparable part of the 150 years of journey that Shillong and later Meghalaya have witnessed.
It bears repetition that during the Hill State movement spearheaded by the erstwhile All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference (APHLC) under the sagacious leadership of Captain W.A.Sangma, B.B.Lyngdoh et al , the Bengali residents of Shillong lent an unflinching support to the cause of our Hill brethren. During the struggle for Hill State in the sixties, the Hill leaders and the Bengali community worked hand in hand in resisting the
imposition of Assamese as the official language of the undivided Assam. In this episode, when garnering support and building public opinion was not easy, the Bengali intellectuals, journalists, lawyers and political leaders stood like a rock with their Hill brethren. It is also a historical fact that the premier English newspaper The Shillong Times extended an unqualified support to the cause and thereby providing a voice to the scattered and relatively small tribes of this part of the country.
That Sir, we take immense pride in recalling that all these early decades that the community resided in these lovely hills, there has been no instance of the Bengalis grabbing tribal land or resorting to exploitation of the Hill people. On the contrary, our community has been the pioneer in spreading the light of education. It is small wonder then, that it was our visionary Bengali ancestors, apart from sharing the Bengali Script with the Khasis, established two dozen schools and half a dozen colleges in Shillong alone.
The Bengali community has served Meghalaya in various other realms, including the legislature, administration, judiciary, health-care, and trade and commerce among others. It is pertinent to mention that because of their love for the place and her people, the Bengalis, along with other communities, have contributed immensely to the growth and development of the cosmopolitan city of Shillong through their energy, business acumen, tenacity as government servants, teachers, doctors, small traders and other professional services. Naturally, it feels sad that despite this chequered history of centuries of proximity, association and residence, they are being vilified as “outsiders” and “foreigners”.
Since the birth of Meghalaya and the resultant shifting of Assam’s Capital to Dispur, a large chunk of Bengali government servants and their families moved out of Shillong. And yet there was a perfect conviviality and amity between the Bengalis and the Hill brethren, until a devastating disturbance in 1979 triggered an uncalled for breach in our historic bond of harmony and mutual interdependence. The unprecedented and the most unexpected blood-letting, accounted for the loss of over 50 precious lives, uprooting hundreds of families and the bigoted rioting left houses, shops and business establishments plundered or burnt down. The tragedy which has left a deep scar in our collective psyche has gone without any reparation for the victims, while the perpetrators of the crimes were never brought to justice. We have borne it all silently without any recrimination hoping that it was an aberration and the worst was over. But today it is apparent that this hardly the case and the loss of life, livelihood and property has only increased ever since resulting in unprecedented violence, both physical and psychological, and trauma leading to mass exodus.
As the years rolled by, the number of Bengali residents in the State dwindled further as Meghalaya’s policies and priorities changed drastically in respect of transfer of land, availability of job opportunities in the government establishments, while intermittent waves of disturbances in the State induced a big slice of our community to quit the place for good.
Today, the Bengalis of Meghalaya have been reduced to a pale shadow of their past. A numerical majority once in Shillong Municipal areas, the number of Bengali residents has rapidly declined in the state over the past four decades.
That Sir, we are deeply hurt by the provocative narrative of certain elements describing all Bengalis of Meghalaya as Bangladeshis. This is an insult to our long and historical relationships with the Hill brethren and our pride as Citizens of India. To us it appears that there is an open threat to our very existence in the State. This we consider a total negation of the solemn commitment of Hill leaders made to the Government of India at the time
of Reorganisation of North-Eastern States in 1971 to protect and safeguard the non-tribal minority residents of
Meghalaya. Kindly recall that the Parliament of India rose as one with overwhelming goodwill of all sections of parliamentarians to support the just cause of the people of Meghalaya. After nearly five decades of the creation of the new State, we are convinced in pointing out that a majoritarian overtone has crept into the system thereby creating existential problems for us.
Against this background of these unfortunate developments, we the undersigned who are bonafide Indian citizens residing in Meghalaya, would humbly request you to take the following measures for giving us a sense of safety and justice as well as treating us as co-passengers in this journey for making Meghalaya, to quote the redoubtable Prof G.G.Swell, “a patch of beauty and a shining outpost of India”:
A. The Government of Meghalaya should take urgent and proactive steps to honour its obligation to secure unto all citizens residing within the State, the Fundamental, Constitutional and Legal rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 29, 30 and 300A and ensure the absolute rule of law to bring about an end to the untold harassment and discrimination of the citizens.
B. We request you to craft out a clear-cut policy commensurate with the letter and spirit of Constitution in respect of the rights and privileges of all ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities residing in Meghalaya.
C. We urge upon you, as in Assam and other States in the country, to create an official body for the protection of the linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities’ rights.
D. We request you to lay down a specific reserved quota for the ethno-linguistic minorities settled in Meghalaya for government jobs, particularly under MPSC in respect of State Civil Service and State Police Service. (In this regard, the first Chief Minister Captain W.A.Sangma had made an unequivocal commitment on the floor of the Assemblyin March 1973 to “allot” 15% state jobs for the non-tribals).
E. We urge upon you to kindly prevail upon the Autonomous District Councils to strictly adhere to the laws in force mandated under the Sixth Schedule when it comes to dealing with the non-tribals in respect of Trading License.
F. We further request you to enact law, or enforce the existing ones, to curb any form of hate speech or incitement of communal antagonism spread through the media, electronic and print.
G. We earnestly solicit that the Government of Meghalaya take all positive and proactive measures for ensuring safety, security and reassurance of the life and livelihood of ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities living in the State.
Sir, we respectfully submit some of these legitimate suggestions for a long-term solution to the unfortunate divide being created between the local tribes and the Bengalis in particular and the Non-tribals in general. We would expect that as a new generation forward looking leader of the State you would be taking these path-breaking actions towards strengthening our age-old relationship, retaining Shillong’s cosmopolitan character and making Meghalaya a truly progressive state .
For these acts of justice and fair play, we shall ever pray.