First some history. According to a report in The Hindu, residents of Harijan Colony, also known as Punjabi Colony, Sweepers Colony, and Them lew Mawlong, is home to 342 families of Dalit or Mazhabi Sikhs. According to the Harijan Panchayat Committee, they “were settled nearly 200 years ago by the British authorities after the local chieftain gifted them a suitable plot.” Now that “suitable plot” happens to be in “the commercial hub of Shillong.” So from a quarrel between a few women and a bus driver, the situation escalated to a full blown communal clash, with tribal youth blockading the colony.

The solution arrived at, after the High Court of Meghalaya ordered for a negotiated settlement, sounds amicable. It involves the relocation of all “342 families in one location with 200 sq. m. per family, preferably in the Meghalaya capital’s European Ward.”

Property, including land in the the European Ward, according to the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, 1971, can be bought or sold to non-tribals with the approval of competent authorities. The intent of the MTLRA seems to be to ensure that transfer of land from a tribal to a non-tribal is strictly regulated, but in this case the circumstances seem rather unfortunate.

Andrew W. Lyngdoh, writing in The Telegraph on the salience of the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act, calls it “sole armour of the indigenous people of the state against alienation of tribal land.” He writes that the Act is “designed to protect indigenous customs and preserve nature while incorporating modern transfer procedures followed all over the country.”

Also Read: How Shillong got a separate Punjabi colony and why it’s a problem now