Now, Christians attack Dalit Sikhs in Shillong. Pray tell, where is the outrage?

The trouble reflects a bigger malaise that India suffers from - majoritarianism.

 |  3-minute read |   04-06-2018
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When Christians speak, the world listens.

Outrage seized the proponents of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan theory last month after a Delhi archbishop's letter surfaced in the public domain.

In a missive to churches, archbishop Anil Joseph Couto urged prayers before next year's general elections.

"We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of our nation," he wrote.

"This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom."

The letter, and its condemnation by the governing BJP, found widespread coverage in international press.

But within days, events that unfolded in India's Christian-majority northeastern state of Meghalaya flew in the face of Couto's call.

Since Thursday, Shillong's Khasi tribe - predominantly Christian - has held Dalit Sikhs to ransom in the city's Punjabi Line neighbourhood.

690-at_060418071549.jpgAfter the violence in Shillong's Bara Bazar area. Photo: PTI

A row between the two groups - allegedly over parking or over harassment, according to separate versions - escalated into arson attacks involving Molotov cocktails.

On the receiving end has been the Punjabi Line minority, descendants of settlers that the British brought to Meghalaya as scavengers some 150 years ago.

Scared, the Punjabi Line residents took refuge at a local gurdwara. Many of them fear they might be forced out of their homes for good.

Sikh residents, according to news reports, allege the unrest is aimed at evicting them forcibly in order to grab the entire Punjabi Line estate.

From May 8 - when archbishop Couto issued his prayer appeal to protect democracy and secularism - to the end of the month, Christians in India appear to have come a full circle.

In larger narrative, a powerful Christian-dominated tribe in Meghalaya has come across as an aggressor towards a tiny minority of Dalits.

Their acts not only offset Couto's request to parish priests but put a question mark on the conduct of Christian elders where they themselves are in a majority, especially in the northeastern parts of the country.

In global media, the Khasis of Meghalaya are praised for their matrilineal tradition that stands out in mostly patriarchal India.

But their pro-women protocols seem to be restricted to their own tribe.

According to news reports, both genders of the Punjabi Line neighbourhood have been attacked in the past few days without bias.

The trouble reflects a bigger malaise that India suffers from - majoritarianism.

Meghalaya, the state government proudly declares on its website, is the homeland mainly of the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos.

"The Garos inhabit western Meghalaya, the Khasis in central Meghalaya, and the Jaintias in eastern Meghalaya," it says.

The Khasis, mostly Christians, are therefore a key vote-bloc in the northeastern state.

The region, as a whole, has had an uncomfortable history of treating non-tribals.

Delhi's Jantar Mantar has, on numerous occasions, exploded with protests - and rightly so - whenever a tribal man or woman from the northeastern parts was harassed in the national capital.

But I am not sure whether the eight states sandwiched between Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar react the same way when the rest of Indians are targeted there.

As of now, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has issued a generic statement, that too after a Sikh delegation came in to voice concerns over Shillong.

Right-wing majoritarianism sweeping national mainstream cannot be fought by minorities infected by strains of the same vicious impulse.

Shillong poses a potential challenge to the church in India to go the extra mile to end reverse discrimination in Christian-dominated states.

Also read: Why India needs a Gagandeep Singh to save us from lynch mob


Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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