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Sikh Truckers, migrant workers jittery after Shillong attacks

Steps taken to ensure security for Shillong-bound vehicles: Ri Bhoi DC
Truckers, migrant workers jittery after Umsning attacks

From Saurav Borah

UMSNING (Ri Bhoi): Satpal Singh appeared worried and weary as he stood beside his half-charred truck, parked by the highway at Umran, barely two km from the police outpost here.

The middle-aged man belonging to the Sikh community apparently is fighting a lone battle against the turn of events after miscreants set his truck on fire in the wee hours of Sunday while he and his driver were sleeping inside the vehicle after a late dinner.

“We were en route to Agartala from Nepal and had retired after a hard day’s work when our slumber was cut short. The tin sheets we carried and the truck (bearing a Punjab registration number and now charred beyond recognition) are worth Rs 40lakh, and till they are insured, our life and livelihoods are at stake,” Singh told The Shillong Times.

There were half a dozen loaded trucks parked behind Singh’s vehicle this afternoon, carrying mostly marbles en route to Barak Valley and Agartala. But the unrest triggered by “misleading social media posts” in the wake of an altercation between a handful of locals and a section from the Sikh community in Shillong, is taking a toll on their psyche.

“We will have to play it safe and travel the way convoys do now. We have families back in Rajasthan and therefore hope for normalcy to return,” said a tad nervous Ram Chander, a transporter carrying marble tiles to Silchar.

An uneasy calm amid simmering tension is apparent during the day hours as security forces near Umsning police outpost were seen stopping Shillong-bound vehicles and only allowing them after clearance from the Special Branch police in the Meghalaya capital.

“We have tightened things since the unrest in Shillong and the attacks on vehicles entering the city since June 1. Night patrolling has been extended till the wee hours. We are managing despite limited manpower even as additional forces are on their way,” Francis Megam, the officer in-charge of Umsning outpost told this correspondent.

“The day hours are relatively easier to control even as we would want people not violate curfew regulations,” Megam added.

Police suspect the attack on the Punjab-registered truck as “targetted” as there were about 14 others parked behind but with number plates bearing registration numbers from Rajasthan, Haryana and Assam.

Worse still, three migrant workers from Bengal were attacked by a group of unidentified youths at Syadrit, just two km from the police outpost, on Saturday night.

“We were having dinner in our room around 9.30pm on Saturday when a group of eight to ten boys barged into our compound and beat us without any provocation. They abused us and even called us dkhar (foreigners) directing us to leave the place. I have been here since 2006 but this is the first time we have been attacked,” Dipankar Choudhury, a fish supplier hailing from Malda district of Bengal, told this correspondent.

Fifty such fish traders engaged mainly by pond owners in the Umsning area left for their hometown in Bengal on Sunday.

“We plan to leave this evening but with a hope to return when the situation eases. We have requested the police to keep us posted as we have families to feed and our livelihoods hinge on the trade we do here,” Choudhury, currently nursing a swollen eye, said.

At Khanapara in Guwahati, many passengers were seen stranded this morning, what with at least three taxi driver associations on an indefinite strike from Monday, demanding protection to vehicles entering Shillong. About four vehicles belonging to these associations have been attacked in and around Mawlai since Friday.

Unlike other days, there were relatively lesser vehicles at the Pahammawlein toll plaza on Monday.

Ri Bhoi deputy commissioner, Rosetta M. Kurbah however said there was nothing to worry for Shillong bound vehicles from Guwahati, as patrolling has been stepped up since the unrest.

“Things are normal in Ri Bhoi district but we are still keeping tight vigil. We are coordinating with our counterparts in the district and police administration in East Khasi Hills to ensure safe passage to the vehicles coming from Guwahati,” Kurbah told this correspondent.

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