Shillong, Sept. 30: Nine people today died in Meghalaya in two incidents of police firing on protesters demonstrating against a government-appointed committee’s recommendations on school education.
The trigger was the suggestion that the Meghalaya Board of School Education, which has been the bone of contention between the Garo and Khasi hills, could do with a regional office in Shillong.
The board operates from Tura, in West Garo Hills district, and the Garo community suspects that the government is trying to bifurcate it to placate organisations in the Khasi hills.
As blood oozed out of the festering ethnic wound caused by the dispute, Garo strongman Purno A. Sangma accused the police of “unprovoked” firing on protesters in Tura and Williamnagar and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incidents.
Curfew was clamped in the Garo hills and the army called out after chief minister D.D. Lapang convened an emergency cabinet meeting to review the situation.
Separate magisterial inquiries were ordered into both incidents. The government also announced ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to the families of the dead.
Two Independent MLAs, Billy Kid Sangma and S.R. Marak, withdrew support from the Lapang government late tonight.
Members of the joint action committee of the Garo Students’ Union and the Garo Hills Citizens’ Forum were fired upon when they defied Section 144 to hold a rally near the Chandmari playground in Tura around 11 am.
The protesters allegedly pelted the security contingent with stones on being asked to retreat, provoking instant retaliation.
Four of the protesters, including two students, died on the spot. The other two casualties were a Meghalaya State Electricity Board employee and an autorickshaw driver.
Garo Students’ Union president Andreas Sangma was among those injured. His condition is stated to be critical.
Around the same time, another group of protesters turned violent at Williamnagar in East Garo Hills district, leading to the second incident of police firing.
Five persons died ' four of them teenagers ' and at least 20 were injured.
Unofficial sources put the toll at 12, seven in Tura and five in Williamnagar.