As many as 87 prominent Bengali citizens of Meghalaya, including former MP, minister and Vice-Chancellor, have written to Meghalaya CM, Conrad K Sangma seeking a solution to the “divide” allegedly being created between the local tribes and Bengalis in the state.
The signatories include ex-Vice Chancellor of Assam University Jayanta Bhushan Bhattacharjee, ex-Rajya Sabha MP, BB Dutta and ex-minister Manas Chaudhuri.
The signatories also include retired IAS officer, student leaders, advocates, bankers, former professors and teachers.
The letter said “in the light of the recent attempt at dubbing all Bengali-speaking residents of Meghalaya as ‘Bangladeshis’, we are shocked, pained and take umbrage at such an audacious statement”.
“We, therefore, feel provoked to recall our long association with the hill people of Meghalaya even prior to the advent of the British Raj. lt is sad to witness these misplaced vilification campaign despite a long history of our mutual co-existence.”
The letter said “for centuries the Bengalis have had nurtured an umbilical relationship with the Khasis, the Garos and the Jaintias who are the natives of this place”.
Long before the British arrived here, the tribes had developed trade and cultural ties with the Bengalis of Sylhet, Mymensing and the adjoining areas, the letter said.
“Today, the Bengalis of Meghalaya have been reduced to a pale shadow of their past. A numerical majority once in Shillong Municipal areas, the number of Bengali residents has rapidly declined in the state over the past four decades,” the letter mentioned.
The citizens said they are “deeply hurt by the provocative narrative of certain elements describing all Bengalis of Meghalaya as Bangladeshis”.
“This is an insult to our long and historical relationships with the Hill brethren and our pride as Citizens of lndia. To us it appears that there is an open threat to our very existence in the state,” it added.
The Bengali citizens of the state have requested the Meghalaya government to “take urgent and proactive steps to honour its obligation to secure unto all citizens residing within the state, fundamental, constitutional and legal rights guaranteed under Articles 14, L5, 15, 16, 19, 21, 29,30, and 300A”.
The state government has been urged to “ensure the absolute rule of law to bring about an end to the untold harassment and discrimination of the citizens”.
Through the letter the Bengali citizens requested the Meghalaya CM to craft out a clear-cut policy commensurate with the letter and spirit of Constitution in respect of the rights and privileges of all ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities residing in Meghalaya.
The Bengali citizens also urged the Meghalaya CM to create an official body for the protection of the linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities’ rights as it has been done in Assam and other states in the country.
“We request you to lay down a specific reserved quota for the ethno-linguistic minorities settled in Meghalaya for government jobs, particularly under MPSC in respect of State Civil Service and State Police Service,” the letter to the CM said.
They made mention of the first Chief Minister Captain W.A. Sangma’s commitment on the floor of the State Assembly in March 1973 to “allot” 15% state jobs for the non-tribals.
They also urged the CM to “prevail upon the Autonomous District Councils to strictly adhere to the laws in force mandated under the Sixth Schedule when it comes to dealing with the non-tribals in respect of trading license”.
The Bengali citizens of the state also requested the CM to “enact law, or enforce the existing ones, to curb any form of hate speech or incitement of communal antagonism spread through the media, electronic and print”.
“We earnestly solicit that the Government of Meghalaya take all positive and proactive measures for ensuring safety, security and reassurance of the life and livelihood of ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities living in the state,” the letter said.
The letter said the suggestions have been made for a long-term solution to the “unfortunate divide being created between the local tribes and the Bengalis in particular and the non-tribals in general”.
Terming the CM, Conrad Sangma, as “a new generation forward looking leader of the state”, the Bengali citizens said he would take path-breaking steps to strengthen the age-old relationship and retain Shillong’s cosmopolitan character and make Meghalaya a “truly progressive state”.