The attack on six labourers, and the subsequent death of one of them, in South West Khasi Hills was reportedly orchestrated by the Khasi Students’ Union.The union, however, denied any link with the incident and reportedly claimed that its members were “framed”. Probably, or not, but the union’s involvement would not be surprising given the history of its actions and reactions. KSU is a dreaded name for non-tribals in the state. Though the union does not have much traction in the city, its members do not shy away from flexing their muscles every now and then, for instance, the incident on Keating Road where a few non-tribals were rounded up by KSU members, one of them an accused in the assault and murder of an Assamese small-time trader in Motphran last year. Many might think it is madness to resort to petty violence, but do not overlook the method in the madness. KSU’s main target has always been powerless non-tribals, smalltime workers in the unorganised labour sector and middle-class non-tribal youth who are enterprising and hard-working. The pressure group leaders are categorical about their choice of victims. They dare not take out a rally against the government’s decision to dole out benefits to well-paid central officials in the name of appreciation for good work; they would rather tread cautiously when it comes to speak out against a sluggish system of justice in cases of crime against females from all age groups; their voices are barely heard when it comes to shouting out loud for the rights of the tribal hoi polloi; they are invisible when it comes to the various environmental issues like exploitation by illegal coke factories and illegal coal mining and transportation.
So, what do we understand from this? It is that the pressure group, and for that matter any pressure group from any part of the state, does not want to choose the right causes to fight for and the right individuals/ institutions to fight against. KSU members claim that they are grassroots leaders, working with the people, for the masses. In that case, their fight should be against the ‘haves’ and not attacks on ‘have-nots’, be it tribal or non-tribal. Their land is safe, with or without an ILP, constitutionally, unless their own people and lawmakers decide to trade their dignity and identity for crores. Is it not the duty of the KSU leaders to stop these nefarious forces from among them first? What, or how much, would they gain from attacking poor daily-wagers and small-time vendors? Or is it because there is nothing to gain from this cluster of poor and hard-working labourers that they are the soft target? The responsibility of speaking up for the voiceless and protecting a community’s identity is a humongous task and can only be borne by the resolute ones. If the local leaders of indigenous groups do not have the resolution and conviction then they should not take up the responsibility. It is time that these leaders show maturity, sensitivity and ingenuity in their actions. It is time they stop mindless and petty violence and focus on the right issues.