Sweepers Colony, also known as Sweeper Line or Punjabi Line, is an impoverished locality in Meghalayas capital city, Shillong - tightly packed with poor housing and infrastructure. The colony is populated by Dalit Sikhs or Mazhabi Sikhs who primarily work as sweepers or safai karamcharis in various government offices and establishments. Although the exact figure of the Dalit Sikh population is unknown, various media outlets have placed the number at 300 families. The Dalit Sikhs had migrated to Shillong from Punjab on the orders of the colonial government to perform menial jobs, such as sweeping and manual scavenging, which the tribal population of Shillong was not inclined to do. Soon after Meghalaya achieved statehood in 1972, the Sweepers Colony began to be viewed as a blot on the urban landscape of Shillong. Since then, the state has made repeated attempts to evict/relocate the residents of the colony. The situation got worse in the aftermath of violent clashes between the Dalit Sikhs and Khasis in May 2018. The issue was largely communalised on social media and the state had to impose a curfew, lasting for days, to control the situation. Several Sikh organisations and political parties, such as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Shiromani Akali Dal Delhi, dispatched their respective delegations to take stock of the ground situation. In June, shortly after the incident, the Meghalaya government notified the Sweeper Line residents about relocation plans. The state set up a High Level Committee (HLC) headed by Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong to work out a plan for rehabilitation. The committee promptly sprang into action by conducting a survey of the locality – a move that was long opposed by the Dalit Sikhs who viewed it as a ploy to displace them. In July, the Harijan Panchayat Committee (HPC), representing the Dalit Sikhs, filed a writ petition in the High Court of Meghalaya challenging the HLC's move to conduct a survey. In November, the Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) further asked the residents to furnish documents to prove their legal occupation. The Dalit Sikhs claim to have been the residents of Shillong for over 150 years now – a claim reiterated by HPC Secretary Gurjit Singh on several occasions. He cites an agreement letter from 2008 to substantiate his claim, according to which the land was bequeathed by the Syiem (Khasi chieftain of the highest order) in 1863 for the accommodation of sweepers. On the other hand, Erwin Sutnga, legal counsel for the Executive Committee of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, told The Wire that the land handed over by the Syiem violates the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, which debars the sale or transfer of tribal land to non-tribals. On February 15, 2019, the High Court upheld the writ petition of the HPC and stated that no arbitrary action can be taken against the Sweeper Line residents without following the due process of law. In March, the government filed a review petition at the High Court against this order. Responding to the petition, the High Court, in June, directed the Sweeper Colony residents to cooperate with the state government in providing requisite documents to the SMB. Disappointed with this verdict, the HPC approached the Supreme Court on the grounds that the review petition order violates the original High Court order. The apex court has now asked the Meghalaya government to respond to the HPC's appeal. Meanwhile, a sub-committee that was formed under the HLC to investigate the matter is in the process of submitting its recommendations to the HLC, which will evaluate them and submit a final report to the state. According to the preliminary report, 184 employees and their families have been identified as legal settlers of the Sweepers' Colony, including families of 128 employees of the SMB and 56 others working in different government departments. Deputy CM Tynsong was quoted in a news report as saying: "The Harijan Colony issue is not simple, especially the land in dispute. I am confident that the report of the sub-committee would guide the HLC on how to move forward to find a permanent solution to this long-pending issue."
Government Bodies Involved in the Conflict:
Shillong Municipal Board, Revenue Department, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, Director General of Police, Deputy Commissioner of East Khasi Hills, High Level Commiittee, Department of Urban Affairs
Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:
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Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:
Name(s) of Court(s)
High Court of Meghalaya, Supreme Court of India
WP(C). No.218 of 2018, SLP(C) No. 18324 - 18325/2019.
Nature of Protest
Campaigns (Grassroots organisations/press releases/media), Objections as part of official procedures
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Reported Details of the Violation:
Date of Violation
Location of Violation
Has the Conflict Ended?
When did it end?
Why did the conflict end?