How Rumours On Social Media Brought Shillong On The Brink Of Ethnic Violence

A petty altercation between a local bus driver and a woman snowballed into riots and clashes between the Sikh and Khasi communities in Shillong

In the early hours of Thursday, May 31, an altercation between a bus driver and a woman in Shillong, Meghalaya snowballed into clashes between the local Khasi tribe and the Sikh community after social media became rife with rumours about the nature of the tension and about a supposed death of the bus driver, although the parties involved reached a verbal compromise. Later in the evening, a mob descended on the streets and began pelting stones after which police personnel stepped in, using teargas shells to disperse rioters.

Curfew was imposed and mobile and internet services were suspended in many parts of the city in order to stop rumours from spreading on social media, which were instrumental in flaring up the clashes. Many rumours were circulated regarding attacks on Gurudwaras, however, they all have been dismissed by the local magistrate. Selling of petrol in loose bottles has also been prohibited in order to stop the use of petrol bombs.

A senior official told The Indian Express,

“Stones were pelted and petrol bombs thrown at policemen who were preventing angry youth of one community from attacking people of another community. Several rounds of tear gas shells were also fired.”

The local Khasi community, including members of Khasi Students Union (KSU), the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) and the Hynniewtrep Youth Council, demanded that the government should act against ‘illegal settlers’. A few miscreants also tried to attack residents in Punjabi Lane after which Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sharma assured Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on the safety of Sikh community and on the protection of Gurudwaras.

The mob, however, defied the curfew on Friday night, attacking a few houses after which the police personnel resorted to baton charge and the army was put on standby. After 3 days of standoff, the curfew has been lifted for a few hours in the sensitive areas today.