‘Nepalis living in terror in Meghalaya’

Kathmandu, May 29 (IANS) Known as the tranquil abode of clouds, India’s north-eastern Meghalaya state has now become an abode of terror for Nepali migrants who say they are being attacked, threatened and told to leave the state immediately or face dire consequences.

‘Nepalis can’t sleep at night,’ says Til Bahadur Bishwakarma, a 40-year-old Nepali who served with the Indian Army for nine years and lives in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. ‘In many places, men have formed bands to guard their families at night. Those who want to leave have to seek tortuous routes through the neighbouring state of Assam for fear of vigilantes.’

Bishwakarma is the secretary of the Migrant Nepalese Association India that has submitted a memorandum to Meghalaya’s new government headed by Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, asking him to stop attempts to ‘terrorise Nepali people in

Meghalaya with the ultimate goal of total elimination of Nepali population’.

Though there are no official figures about the number of Nepalis working in Meghalaya, Bishwakarma estimates there are between 5-800,000 migrants, working mostly in the coal mines of Garo, Khasi and Jayantia regions.

Since the violence started this month, he says nearly 70 percent of the coal mine workers have begun fleeing.

The trouble started after renewed friction with neighbouring Assam state, from which Meghalaya was separated in 1972 but with which it still remains locked in border disputes.

The Assam government sent people to disputed villages on its border with Meghalaya for a census but the Khasi tribals of Meghalaya, living in the no-man’s-land villages, reportedly sent away the investigators, saying they belonged to Meghalaya.

Soon after that, Bishwakarma says hundreds of Khasis, armed with knives and bows and arrows, attacked Nepalis during a weekly market. When police intervened, five Khasis were said to have been killed in the firing, resulting in even more fierce attacks on Nepali migrants.

In Umiam village, Vishwakarma says a 70-year Nepali cowherd was set ablaze. Three more Nepali huts were also set on fire.

The killing was followed by attacks on Nepalis and threats. ‘People, including even government employees, have been receiving quit Meghalaya notices, warning them to leave within a week or even 24 hours,’ Vishwakarma says.

The association says Meghalaya has seen such attacks against migrants since the 70s. There were riots targeting Bengalis in 1979, against Nepalis in 1987, followed by still more violence against people from Bihar and non-tribals.

Nepalis, it says, are a peace-loving community who have sacrificed their lives for India during the wars with China and Pakistan.

The association is asking the Meghalaya government to provide compensation to the displaced and injured Nepalis, medical treatment and deployment of paramilitary forces in the trouble-prone areas to ensure their safety.