. The hill state of Meghalaya swings between waves of communal violence and an uneasy peace. Recently, members of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), a student body only in name, which has long been accused of fomenting violence against non-tribals in the state, declared all Bengalis in Meghalaya as Bangladeshis. It is also spearheading an agitation for an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to regulate outsiders coming into the state. The Centre has so far refused to yield to this unreasonable demand — at stake is also the Prime Minister’s Act East Policy for the success of which seamless connectivity and exchange within the Northeastern states is essential.
The Sixth Schedule, however, discriminates against the non-tribal residents in various ways and infringes upon their fundamental rights, like the right to equality before law (Article 14), right against discrimination (Article 15), and the right to settle anywhere in India (Article 19). Special constitutional protections are indeed required for marginalised sections to ensure that historical wrongs done to them are reversed and not repeated, but it has denied justice to the non-tribals, who have lived in Meghalaya for generations but ended up marginalised.
The non-tribal population of the state is a product of its history. In the 19th century, the British administration had brought the Bengalis, one of earliest to gain English education, into Shillong which was then the capital of the composite state of Assam, for assisting the administration. The contiguous district of Sylhet which was made a part of Assam by the British before it went to East Pakistan at Partition always had close ties and warm relations with the Khasi and Jaintia people of Meghalaya based on trade and other exchanges since the early 19th century.