Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills 1443899690, 9781443899697

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Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills
 1443899690, 9781443899697

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Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills

Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills Edited by

Charles Reuben Lyngdoh

Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills Edited by Charles Reuben Lyngdoh This book first published 2016 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2016 by Charles Reuben Lyngdoh and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9969-0 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9969-7


List of Tables ............................................................................................ viii Preface ........................................................................................................ ix List of Contributors .................................................................................... xi Chapter One ................................................................................................. 1 Introduction: Revisiting Traditional and Constitutional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills: Interface of Continuity and Change L. S. Gassah Chapter Two ................................................................................................ 6 The Khasi States and the British: Political Development on the Eve of Independence Charles Reuben Lyngdoh Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 21 The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity Fabian Lyngdoh Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 38 Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity Sharalyne Khyriemmujat and Amanda B. Basaiawmoit Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 52 Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella: Examining its Relevance in the Present Times A. W. Rani Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 80 Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin P. Gracefulness Bonney


Table of Contents

Chapter Seven............................................................................................ 93 Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship Spainlinmi B. Lapasam Chapter Eight ........................................................................................... 112 Traditional Institutions and Urban Governance in Meghalaya with Special Reference to Shillong City A. W. Rani Chapter Nine............................................................................................ 125 The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township: The Lion Mission Compound Dorbar Chnong Kerl'ihok L. Buam Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 138 Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Constitutional Institutions Monica Neeta Laloo Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 150 Women’s Participation in the Dorbar: A Case Study in West Khasi Hills Ibabitnam Mawkhroh Chapter Twelve ....................................................................................... 163 The Constitutional-Traditional Interface: The Autonomous District Council and Traditional Institutions in the Khasi Hills Dhiraj Borkotoky Chapter Thirteen ...................................................................................... 179 Changing Structure, Status and Utility of the Traditional Institutions in the Khasi Hills Recordius E. Kharbani Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................................... 188 Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change Banshaikupar L. Mawlong

Revisiting Traditional Institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills


Chapter Fifteen ........................................................................................ 200 Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions: Can REDD+ Revitalise Age-old Khasi Regimes of Community Based Forest Management? Bennathaniel H. Diengdoh and Banphira Bahun Wahlang


Table 5.1 Table 5.2 Table 8.1 Table 11.1 Table 11.2

The Nine Villages of Shella Confederacy Questionnaire and Responses Urban Areas of Meghalaya Registered Cases of Crimes against Women Rape Cases Registered District-wise: April 2012-March 2013


Traditional institutions in the Khasi-Jaintia society are “living organisms” which have existed for centuries. During this time they have internally evolved from one phase to another to provide for the exigencies of time and necessity. In the pre-colonial period, these traditional institutions evolved from the clan based council, ka Dorbar Kur, with designated offices and office holders such as the Rangbah Kur (a clan elder who was usually the eldest maternal uncle) to the state council, ka Dorbar Hima, with designated offices and office holders such as the Syiem, Lyngdoh, Sirdar, Wahadadar and Doloi (these heads or chiefs as they were called, were chosen from specific clans) and their council members. Each of these traditional institutions existed over a demarcated area which was independently administered by the traditional head or chief. The traditional heads and chiefs executed legislative, executive, judicial as well as religious functions in accordance with the traditions, customs and customary laws and usages of the land. When these traditional institutions, especially the Khasi states came into contact with other peoples and forms of administration, particularly the British, their internally evolved system of functioning witnessed interference and adjustment. By 1835 the British had suppressed most of the insurrections in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills (insurrections by the Khasi state of Maharam and the Jaintia Elakas were to continue for some more time) and began to put in place an administrative system in these Hills. Thus what initially began as a request (by the British East India Company) for right of passage for British company troops from the plains of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) to the plains of Assam (now a state in India) through the Khasi and Jaintia Hills ultimately concluded with the firm establishment of British authority over these Hills. In the wake of India’s independence in 1947 and the redrawing of the geographical contours of the sub-continent, new states emerged which would become the inheritors and successors of the British political and administrative legacy. The process of transferring power and territories formerly under British rule was undertaken through discussion, negotiation, the signing of agreements, and mergers and in several instances even through outright coercion. The inauguration of the new Constitution of India in 1950 firmly put in place a federal structure to redefine this nascent independent country’s relationship with its redrawn



units and its citizens. In this sea of political change spanning over a century, the Khasi states continued to exist and carry out their traditionally entrusted responsibilities backed by local public opinion that called for their continuity amidst diminishing responsibility and utility. Today these traditional institutions continue to exist though public opinion has been critical on several occasions of their defiance to adapt to changes. In 2014 the Department of Political Science, Synod College, Shillong, organised a workshop, “Revisiting Traditional Institutions in Khasi-Jaintia Hills” to deliberate on a range of issues affecting these traditional institutions. It was felt that the discussions and deliberations should see the light of day in the form of a publication. This book is thus a collection of the revised papers that were presented at the workshop. Several papers have also been contributed by other scholars working on issues relevant to traditional institutions. These papers, fifteen in all, weave together a landscape that portrays traditional institutions as they exist in the present Khasi and Jaintia Hills in the State of Meghalaya. The papers have blended oral tradition on the evolution of traditional institutions with historical records and available sources from secondary literature both in English and local writings. These papers discuss traditional institutions both in the urban as well as the rural setting. They discuss the structure of these traditional institutions, their functions and relevance in the present day, existing amidst other constitutionally mandated systems of administration. The papers examine the interplay of power and functions between the legitimate power holders such as the state government and the Autonomous District Councils and the traditional power holders represented by the traditional institutions across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Some papers examine the role of women in these traditional institutions, an issue that evokes intense academic discussion especially among the Khasi and Jaintia people who practise matriliny. The last paper looks at the traditional forest management regime existing in the Khasi Hills and its adaptation of REDD+ as a climate change mitigation mechanism. The publication of this edited volume would not have been possible but for the efforts of several people. I would like to express my gratitude to the contributors for their submissions and especially for their enthusiasm and commitment to ensure that this collection of papers is published. I thank Mankhrawbor Dunai and Sue Morecroft for their thorough work of proof reading and I also express my sincere gratitude to the publisher for the meticulous work and effort to publish this volume.


1. Airpeace Well Rani is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 2. Amanda B. Basaiawmoit is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Shillong College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 3. Banphira Bahun Wahlang is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Cultural and Creative Studies, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 4. Banshaikupar Lyngdoh Mawlong is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Union Christian College, Umiam, Ri Bhoi district, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 5. Bennathaniel H. Diengdoh is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Ecology & Environmental Science, Pondicherry University, Puducherry, India. Email: [email protected] 6. Charles Reuben Lyngdoh is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 7. Dhiraj Borkotoky is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 8. Fabian Lyngdoh is former Chairman (Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council), columnist and freelance writer, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 9. Ibabitnam Mawkhroh is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 10. Kerl’ihok L. Buam is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 11. L. S. Gassah is Professor, Department of Political Science, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya. Email: [email protected]


List of Contributors

12. Monica Neeta Laloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 13. P. Gracefulness Bonney is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Synod College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 14. Recordius E. Kharbani is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Political Science, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 15. Sharalyne Khyriemmujat is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, Shillong College, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected] 16. Spainlinmi B. Lapasam is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Political Science, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. Email: [email protected]


The existence of the office of chiefship and other institutions connected with the administration is one of the common features among the tribal communities of North-East India. These pristine institutions had prevailed and are still prevailing among many of the tribal communities of the North-Eastern region. Though among certain tribes the office of the traditional chief was no longer there, we still find the existence and continuation of the same among many other tribal communities. For example, among the Mizos, the office of the once-powerful Lal or chief had been abolished after the passing of the Assam-Lushai Hills District (Acquisition of Chiefs Rights) Act, 1955 with a provision to pay compensation to the chiefs for the loss of their traditional office. This Act was actually the last nail in the coffin of the Mizo chiefs. Further, among the Jaintia, the office of the Syiem was also abolished by the British authorities on 15 March 1835 after the British decided to take over the administration of the hill portion of the former Jaintia kingdom. However the British administration retained the other offices of the traditional chiefs among the Jaintias like the office of the Doloi, Pator and Waheh Chnong (village headman) to assist the British authorities in running the administration of the Elakas and villages. The British administration passed and enforced many Acts, Rules and Regulations from time to time during the course of their administration and these had serious repercussions and effects on the traditional powers and functions of the chiefs and their institutions. To be brief, the same happened and is still


Chapter One

happening after India’s independence with the introduction of the constitutional institutions like the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in certain hill areas and districts of North-East India. These political and constitutional developments have greatly affected the relationship between the traditional institutions and that of the constitutional institutions. The new developments have also brought with them new challenges and this has opened up new avenues for further examination and analysis of the relationship between these two sets of institutions in a more scientific way. There is therefore an urgent need to “re-visit” these political and constitutional developments that took place during the time of the British administration and after India’s independence. On the basis of the power and functions held by the chiefs of numerous tribes of the North-Eastern region, they can be classified into different categories depending upon the extent of power entrusted to or held by them. Further, the customary law of succession and inheritance, and the methods of election or selection also differ from tribe to tribe and from area to area. Variation in the laws of succession to the office could be found even within the same tribal community; a clear example is that of the different Naga tribes. The law of succession also determines the extent of power or authority entrusted to the chief either by the chief’s family or clan or the council of elders or the villagers themselves or whichever body/institution or authority is responsible in determining the succession process. A chief is either elected or selected for a definite period or for a lifetime. The tenure of office of a chief therefore differs from tribe to tribe, and even within the same tribe. Among the tribes which follow the patrilineal system of descent and where chiefship has become hereditary, the law of primogeniture is generally observed. At the same time, it is a practice in which the eldest surviving male child of the previous or deceased chief may not inherit the office if he is known to be incapable, cowardly or having certain drawbacks. From such a practice, it is thus evident that the son becomes the chief by virtue of his personal qualifications and qualities of head and heart. Among some other tribes, a chief is elected to the office on the basis of his personal ability or qualifications rather than on the grounds of hereditary rights and still among other tribes, the office is strictly confined to the members of the privileged original or founding clan(s). These clans are regarded as such because it was they who were the first or earliest settlers in a particular area. Such clans under the leadership of the most senior male member, after they decided to finally settle down, chose a particular area, colonised it and claimed proprietorship over it. Proprietorship over the land gave such clans the political authority to run



the administration. In some cases, the principle of hereditary chiefship was introduced by the British authorities after taking over the administration of the area. They did this in order to ensure political and administrative stability and more importantly to gain the loyalty of the chiefs towards the British administration. Basically, a simple typology of chiefship could not be found to exist among the various tribal communities of the NorthEastern region. The case of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills in the State of Meghalaya is unique in many ways. Both of the areas had a long experience under the administration of their traditional chiefs and their institutions even before the coming of the British. During the entire British administration over the Khasi and Jaintia Hills they allowed these chiefs and their authorities to continue under the overall supervision and control of the British authorities. The British authorities had either taken away most of their traditional power and functions especially their traditional judicial functions or had curtailed their power and functions to suit the British interests in administration. After India’s independence, the framers of the Indian Constitution did not totally overlook the situation that prevailed during that time in terms of the role and function of the existing traditional administration in the form of the chiefs and other institutions in the hill areas of North-East India in general and the Khasi-Jaintia Hills in particular. Under the Directive Principles of State Policy, administration in other parts of India was introduced right down to the grassroots level under Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). However, the political leaders and constitutional experts felt that the PRIs may not be administratively suitable to serve the needs of the tribal people of the region and their societies. Therefore some other constitutional institutions had to be introduced to suit their interests and political aspirations to enable them to take part in decision-making when the new Constitution came into operation. To cut it short, a SubCommittee was appointed to study and examine the prevailing administration under the traditional chiefs and their institutions, traditions, customs, usages of the land and people and other related matters of administration. The members of the Sub-Committee, in short, recommended the setting up of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in the hill districts of the then undivided State of Assam. The recommendations of the Sub-Committee were accepted by the Constituent Assembly after heated discussions on the pros and cons of the draft proposal. The ADCs are incorporated into the Indian Constitution under Articles 244(2) and 275(1). The ADCs as per the Sixth Schedule are empowered to run the administration within their jurisdiction relating to


Chapter One

land, unreserved forests, the management and control of primary school education, the appointment and succession of traditional chiefs like the Syiems, Sirdars, Lyngdohs, Wahadadar and village headmen in the Khasi Hills and the Dolois, Pators and village headmen in the Jaintia Hills. With the new constitutional development that took place after India’s independence, the Khasi-Jaintia society has undergone a sea-change and experienced something which it had not even encountered before and during the British period of administration. The change that has taken place is from a position of tradition to one of modernity. It is this new development which brings another interesting chapter, a new chapter that creates a strained relationship between the traditional institutions represented by the traditional chiefs and their institutions and the constitutional bodies or institutions under the ADCs and the State Government. The introduction of the ADCs has affected the traditional power and functions of the traditional chiefs and their institutions from time to time. The passing in 1959 of the Act, Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and headmen and its subsequent amendments have further deteriorated the power and functions of the chiefs and their institutions. This is due to the fact that the Sixth Schedule has empowered the ADCs to supervise and have control over the chiefs and their institutions. It is with this background that the contributors of this book have brought out their research findings after re-visiting those problems and issues facing both the traditional and constitutional institutions, the relationship between the two institutions and the effects of the constitutional institutions on the traditional ones. There is no doubt that a number of studies had been conducted earlier both by local and non-local researchers. Such studies have come up with their varied findings. However, as most of the tribal societies and their traditional institutions are experiencing and facing the forces of change especially with the introduction of constitutional institutions, most of the power and functions of these traditional institutions are seriously affected when their functions are either curtailed or taken away. This changed situation obviously calls for a proper examination and analysis of the relationship between the two institutions. Revisiting the traditions is therefore necessary in order to make a serious attempt to evaluate and analyse the issues involved, especially the changing role and functioning of these institutions from the theoretical and conceptual framework which is lacking in many earlier studies. Some such earlier studies were more expressionistic in character. There is also a need to update the data and information on the current political relationship between the traditional



and constitutional institutions in a changing political scenario in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of the State of Meghalaya.


Introduction Traditional political institutions occupy a central place in the tribal milieu of North-East India. These institutions evolved in tribal societies to bring order to and regulate settled life among the inhabitants. Among the Khasi and Jaintia people, the development of these traditional political institutions had been gradual. Over the centuries these institutions evolved beyond the confines of village settlements to higher forms exhibiting remarkable foresight in village leaders and their kin groups (Lyngdoh, 2009: 4). The Hima, that is, the state (Note 1) was the highest traditional political settlement that evolved among the Khasi and Jaintia people. The political office that administered the affairs of the Hima was the Syiemship under an administrative head called (by various nomenclatures in different Hima), Syiem, Lyngdoh, Sirdar and Wahadadar (Lebar, 1964: 10). Syiemlieh notes that: This rudimentary stage of state formation probably arose out of voluntary association of villages when new developments such as opening of markets, execution of marriage laws, organisation of land tenure and judicial administration brought in the need for a central common ruler. (1989: 4)

Similarly Bareh observed that: Syiemship was devised to amalgamate identical pursuits, interests and necessities of clans and units near and far. It was instituted on the spirit of

The Khasi States and the British


reciprocity along with a consolidation of other intimate relations amongst different sections of people who made up their units. (1985: 41)

Prior to the advent of the British in the Khasi Hills, the Khasi states exercised independent control over their respective territories. The arrival of the British at the periphery of the Khasi Hills (Note 2) ushered in a phase of uneasy relations between the British and the Khasi states. These relations were marked by contact, trade, incursions, resistance to restrictions and impositions and finally, insurrection of the Khasi states against the British. The Khasi states were against the British larger interests of connecting the Surma valley with the Brahmaputra valley through routes across the Khasi Hills where the territories of the Khasi states were located. The British suppressed the insurrections (which took place between 1829 and 1839) of the Khasi states that opposed their authority. The Khasi states ultimately came under “the protection and authority of the Government” and were bound “to obey without demur all the mandates of the Government” (Allen, 1903: 26-27). The Khasi states, reported to be twenty-five in number were then categorised by the British as semi-independent and dependent (Ibid). The semi-independent states (such as Cherra, Khyrim, Nongstoin, Langrin and Nongspung) were regarded to be of a higher rank as these states never came into conflict with the Government. Of these, with the exception of the Chief of Cherra, the rest had no written agreement with the Government (Dutta, 1982: 131). The dependent states were, on the other hand, inferior in rank since they were restored as a gift after conquest by the Government (Ibid.). With the subjugation of most of the Khasi principalities by 1834, the British began making new political arrangements to administer the Khasi Hills. In 1834 the Khasi Hills were placed under the political supervision of the Agent to the Governor General. In 1835 a separate Political Agency for the Khasi Hills was created with its headquarters at Cherrapunjee. In the initial phase of preparing and adopting a pattern of administration for the Khasi Hills, the British wanted to follow a system of indirect rule cementing it through subsidiary alliances. Thus, in due course the political relations of the Khasi states and the British were conducted through subsequent official documents such as sanads and parwanas (Syiemlieh, 2007: 182). The territorial contours of the Khasi Hills were never to remain static. These contours changed with the passage of time and in accordance with subsequent acts and regulations passed by the British government. Two distinct categories of administration emerged in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The first was the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district which was created in 1854. This district was administered by British officers duly appointed


Chapter Two

by the government. After 1861, the district came under the administrative charge of the Deputy Commissioner. This district was comprised of the annexed territories of the Jaintia Hills and thirty-two villages including Shillong British area––Cantonment and Municipal. The second was the administration of the 25 Khasi states which had direct relations with the British government. The relations between these states and the British government were carried out through agreements, ki sanad, administered by the Deputy Commissioner (after 1861) who acted as Political Agent to the Khasi states (Lyngdoh, 2013: 108-109). As mentioned, in 1854 the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district was created and subsequently, the jurisdiction of this newly-created district was transferred to the Commissioner of Assam. On February 6, 1874 the Chief Commissionership of Assam was created and it comprised of the five districts of Brahmaputra valley, the Naga Hills, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, the Garo Hills, Goalpara, Cachar and Sylhet (Chaube, 1999: 11; Syiemlieh, 1989: 137).

Political Development in the Khasi Hills The twentieth century further witnessed a realignment of the province of Assam which in turn resulted in the re-categorisation of its districts. The appointment of various commissions in the late 1920s to examine the level of development in India also evinced interest in the Khasi Hills (Lyngdoh, 2009: 96-98). The new sense of awareness and engagement visible in the emerging Khasi elite enabled the Khasi leaders as well as leaders of the Khasi states to engage in dialogue, through petition, representation and assembly, with the British government as well as with the people. By the 1940s it became evident that independence from British rule was close at hand. This period witnessed heightened political activity among the leaders who were determined to carve a unified political destiny for the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The Government of India Act, 1935 was adopted on August 2, 1935 and was implemented in 1937. As per provisions of Chapter III paragraph 60 (a) of this Act, the Legislature in Assam became bicameral. The Assam Legislative Assembly (Lower House) had the strength of 108 members and all of them were elected. The strength of the Legislative Council (Upper House) was not more than 22 members. Electoral politics was introduced in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills through the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935. The Act allotted three single member constituencies to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills––one seat for Jowai, a second seat for Shillong and the third seat, a reserved seat, for the ShillongWomen constituency. No seat was allotted to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills in

The Khasi States and the British


the Assam Legislative Council. Prior to the creation of the three single member constituencies, there existed only one constituency in the Assam Legislative Council, the Shillong-Karimganj constituency (Syiemlieh, 1989: 177). In 1920 James Joy Mohan Nichols Roy was elected from this constituency and his presence ensured that the political and administrative concerns of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district were articulated in the Assam legislature. The next two decades witnessed various political developments in the Khasi Hills as the educated Khasi gentry attempted to prepare a political roadmap for the future progress of the Khasi states. This period witnessed two significant political developments in the Khasi Hills: a. the establishment of the Khasi National Dorbar (hereafter KND) on September 4, 1923 (Ki Proceedings, 1923: 1). The establishment of the KND was the first attempt to bring together all the Khasi states under one organisation and to discuss and document important socio-cultural and political issues relevant to the people such as land rights, residency rights and rights to ancestral property amongst other issues (Lyngdoh, 2009: 183-184). Gassah writes: the Khasi National Durbar was formed in 1923 to find out ways and means to bring about closer unity and cooperation among the Khasi States, to find out a possibility of constituting a common organisation, and to consider the future of the Khasi States under the new constitutional set-up. (2007: 176)

b. the establishment of the Federated Khasi States (hereafter FKS) on December 16, 1934. This organisation was established to forge closer relations among the Khasi states and to also improve relations of the Khasi states with the British government (Cantlie, 1974: 183-184). The FKS was intended to be a visible and collective political platform to demand for improved political relations under proposed constitutional reforms in 1935. Among the many objectives of the FKS was the desire for assured representation in the Federal Legislature in India through the Chamber of Princes. The political ambitions of the Federated Khasi States were short-lived. The Government of India Act, 1935 did not define their position or status in relation to the Government. The Federated Khasi States were excluded from the Chamber of Princes and could not send a common representative along with other small Indian states. This proposed scheme for the participation of Indian states in the Indian federation itself did not


Chapter Two

materialise. Further, the recognition granted to them by the government in May 1934 was withdrawn after a brief period. Even their request for establishing a direct relationship with the Viceroy through a Political Agent or Agent was not granted.

Political Interest and Articulation on the Eve of Independence The years preceding India’s independence saw that the Khasi and Jaintia Hills District comprised of two administrative categories. In the first category certain areas were directly under the administration of British authorities. These areas included the Shillong Municipality and Cantonment Areas, Jowai sub-division and thirty-one British villages directly under British administration. These areas were represented in the Assam Legislative Assembly by three members, two from demarcated constituencies––the Shillong seat and the Jowai seat and one from the reserved seat for women (Assam Legislative Assembly, Internet). The second category comprised of 25 Khasi states which were administered by traditional rulers whose relations with the British were stipulated by treaties and agreements. The political interests in the district comprised of two assemblages––the traditional and the modern. The traditional political interests were represented by the rulers of Khasi states who wanted to preserve the continuity of existing systems of governance against the rising tide of political change. Modern political interests were represented by elected representatives to the Assam Legislature who wanted greater participation in the modern system of governance. The progress of these two opposing political interests was to unfold through various events across the late 1940s till India’s independence and even after, till the enactment of the Constitution of India in 1950 (Lyngdoh, 2009: 113-114). By 1946 it had become very clear that India’s independence was close. The arrival of the three-member cabinet delegation, also called the Cabinet Mission (Note 3), and the subsequent preparation of the Cabinet Mission Plan confirmed the rapid political developments that were unfolding in India. The Cabinet Mission made several important observations with regard to India’s political future. a. To allay fears on the future of the Indian states the Cabinet Mission observed that with the attainment of independence by British India the relationship which had existed between the states and the British Crown would no longer be possible, though it was expected that the

The Khasi States and the British






states would co-operate with the new Government in building up a new constitutional structure; During the interim period which must elapse before the coming into operation of a new Constitutional structure under which British India will be independent or fully self-governing, paramountcy will remain in operation. But the British Government could not and will not in any circumstances transfer paramountcy to an Indian Government; In the meantime the Indian states are in a position to play an important part in the formulation of a new Constitutional structure for India, and His Majesty’s Government has been informed by the Indian states that they desire, in their own interests and in the interests of India as a whole, both to make their contributions to the framing of the structure, and to take their due place in it when it is completed; When a new fully self-governing or independent Government or Governments come into being in British India, His Majesty’s Government will cease to exercise the powers of paramountcy. The rights of the states which flow from their relationship to the Crown will no longer exist and all the rights surrendered by the states to the paramount power will return to the states. Political arrangements between the states on the one side and the British Crown and British India on the other will thus be brought to an end. The void will have to be filled either by the states entering into a federal relationship with the successor Government or Governments in British India, or failing this, entering into particular political arrangements with it for them; During the interim period it will be necessary for the states to conduct negotiations with British India in regard to the future regulations of matters of common concern. Such negotiations which will be necessary will occupy a considerable period of time and some of these negotiations may well be incomplete when the new structure comes into being. To avoid administrative difficulties it will be necessary to arrive at an understanding, between the states and the succession Government or Governments, that for a period of time the then existing arrangements as to these matters of common concern should continue until new arrangements are completed (Mansergh, 1977: 522-523).

The Cabinet Mission’s visit to India gave an opportunity to the hill districts to express their political views and aspirations in the light of impending independence. In the Khasi Hills two organisations submitted representations to the Cabinet Mission.


Chapter Two

a. The Khasi Jaintia Political Association (hereafter KJPA), formed in early 1946, submitted a memorial to the Cabinet Mission which asked for the creation of a federation of all the Khasi areas within a “Sovereign Assam” with adequate “cultural and political autonomy” (Chaube, 1999: 75); b. The Khasi Jaintia Federated State National Conference (hereafter KJFSNC) proposed the creation of a Khasi Jaintia Federated State within Assam through the integration of British areas with the Khasi states. It also proposed the setting up of all the three organs of government (a National Council, an Executive Council and a Federal Court) with commensurate powers (Chaube, 1999: 76; Giri, 1998: 229). Both of these organisations spoke of an autonomous but unified and integrated Khasi and Jaintia Hills District within the State of Assam yet they represented two different political assemblages. The KJPA represented the Khasi states and strongly urged their continuity but through a modified political organisation (the proposed federation of all Khasi areas). The KJFSNC on the other hand represented the modern parliamentary system proposing a federal structure through the division of powers between the organs of government. On August 22, 1946 the dormant Federated Khasi States were revived and renamed, the Federation of Khasi States (hereafter FKS). The Federation of Khasi States sought to establish itself as the legitimate organisation to negotiate with the successor government on the political future of the Khasi States. While the FKS of 1933 was mired in uncertainties the revived FKS of 1946 saw before it a political world of opportunities. The individual states comprising the Federation appeared to have temporarily submerged their individual interests for the larger collective good of the FKS. The opportunities for discussion and negotiation were much wider than what was possible in 1933. The FKS could now look forward to dialogue and political engagement with a larger number of administrative-legal agencies, some of which were already present while others had emerged during this time, on the question of the political future of the Khasi states. These administrative-legal agencies included the Chamber of Princes, the States Department and the Constituent Assembly. a. The Chamber of Princes on June 19, 1946 appointed a Negotiating Committee to discuss constitutional matters with the Government and fix the representation of states to the proposed Constituent

The Khasi States and the British


Assembly. The FKS was desirous of being represented in the Chamber of Princes so that it could present its views before the Chamber. The FKS further declared that with the transfer of power to a new Dominion, it would form a government for the Khasi states. Its position in relation to the new successor Government in India would be in line with that taken by the Indian States through the Chamber of Princes (Lyngdoh, 1996: 175-176). On February 20, 1947 the Standing Committee of the FKS observed that due recognition was granted to it by the Chamber of Princes. This meant that as an umbrella entity the Federation of Khasi States could demonstratively negotiate a political settlement with the future Government of India on the lines of the Cabinet Mission’s Memorandum of States and resolutions of the Chamber of Princes (Lyngdoh, 2009: 127); b. The Constituent Assembly was formed on the recommendation of the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Constituent Assembly met for the first time on December 9, 1946 and thereafter began to work (through its various committees) to compose and draft a new constitution for India. The North-East Frontier Tribal Areas and Assam Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas Sub-Committee (also known as the Bardoloi Sub-Committee) was entrusted with the task to recommend an appropriate administrative framework for the tribal people of the region in order to protect their institutions and their rights as well as their mechanisms of self-government commensurate with the political progress of the whole country. The FKS could now engage with this sub-committee more intensively on issues relating to the political future of the Khasi states; c. The States Department was established on July 5, 1947 to deal with matters of common concern to the states and to also draw up a policy on behalf of the incoming government, on Indian states. It was headed by Sardar Vallabhai Patel while V. P. Menon was the Secretary. On taking over the States Department, Sardar Vallabhai Patel immediately drew up a policy of the Government of India on the Indian states. He invited the states to accede to the Dominion of India on the three mentioned subjects––Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications which concerned the national interests of the country. On the other subjects he noted that the States Department would respect the autonomous existence of the states (Lyngdoh, 2009: 129-130).


Chapter Two

The Standing Committee of the Federation of the Khasi States was authorised to draft a Constitution which could then be discussed, finalised and adopted at the general meeting of the FKS. On February 20, 1947 the Standing Committee of the FKS met to prepare its draft constitution. This draft was circulated to all the Khasi states and they were requested to report back to the FKS, sending their comments and observations by March 25, 1947. The duly approved draft constitution was presented to the Government. After careful study of the draft constitution of the FKS the Government found that its approach was too rigid. On May 10, 1947 the Political Officer of the Khasi states reminded all the rulers of the Khasi states to make their constitutions more flexible so as to allow the people a share in the administration. The rulers were requested to ensure that the people had proper representation in the state council. The Political Officer wanted to get their views as early as possible (Lyngdoh, 1996: 181). Earlier on February 20, 1947 the British government announced that it would quit India. The Federation of Khasi States had little time to prepare a roadmap for the political future of the Khasi states. Of the three administrative-legal agencies the FKS focused on their discussions with the States Department through the Governor of Assam, Akbar Hydari. The FKS did not make any representation to the Bardoloi sub-committee, probably due to the simmering differences with J. J. M. Nichols Roy (who was a member of this sub-committee) on the proposed administrative setup for Khasi and Jaintia Hills (Lyngdoh, 2009: 138). On the other hand, it was Macdonald Kongor who spoke in favour of the Khasi states and urged the Bardoloi Sub-Committee to recommend full autonomy to the Khasi states to administer themselves as a single unit under the Federation of Khasi States. He expressed his hope that the Bardoloi sub-committee would recommend full independence for the Khasi states (Lyngdoh, 1996: 197). Akbar Hydari was entrusted with the task of negotiating with the Khasi states. During their visit to Delhi in July 1947, the two advisors of the FKS, Ajra Sing Khongphai and Mavis Dunn Lyngdoh, briefed G. S. Guha the representative of the FKS to the Constituent Assembly (Note 4). They also met Sardar Vallabhai Patel who assured them that except for Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication, the Khasi states individually and the FKS would enjoy internal autonomy. On July 14, 1947 Hydari proceeded to negotiate with representatives of the Khasi states to try and reach an agreement. He urged the Khasi states into accepting these terms communicated to them by Sardar Vallabhai Patel. His efforts culminated with the Federation of Khasi States signing the Standstill Agreement on August 8, 1947 a week before independence. This agreement bound the FKS, as a representative of the Khasi states, to

The Khasi States and the British


continue to maintain administrative relations with the Province of Assam and thereafter with the new Dominion of India (Note 5). The agreement was to continue for a period of two years or until new or modified arrangements were arrived at between the authorities concerned. In the subsequent days and months the Khasi states also signed the Instruments of Accession. These political developments that took place on the eve of India’s independence present interesting facts: a. The States Department in New Delhi was aware that the legal position of the Khasi states was no different than that of other Indian states. To avoid legal consequences of the lapse of paramountcy the authorities in Delhi needed to take steps to initiate negotiations with the Khasi states; b. The negotiations were hurriedly initiated to pre-empt any possibility of the Federation of Khasi States or the individual Khasi states to think otherwise, that is, either to initiate the process of self-determination and complete independence after the lapse of paramountcy of the British, or to join the other newly-created Dominion of Pakistan through the District of Sylhet (East Pakistan) (Note 6); c. The Governor of Assam had seriously contemplated incorporating the Khasi states into the province of Assam. However this proposal would not have received their consent and may have even influenced separatism. The next alternative was to retain similar measures of control which had then been exercised by the Crown Representative through the Agency of the Assam Government (Political Department, 1947: 20); d. If certain agreements were not arrived at with the Khasi states before the lapse of paramountcy, all rights ceded to the paramount power that (the British) would return to the Khasi states. The governor of Assam realised that: i. The Shillong Administered Areas and Cantonments would revert back to the Syiem of Mylliem; ii. British Indian laws would cease to have legal force in the Khasi states; iii. Mineral rights granted to the British authorities will revert back to the respective states; iv. The Syiems will have jurisdiction over foreigners residing in their respective States; v. Sanads granted to Khasi traditional rulers will lapse;

Chapter Two



Perpetual leases by the Khasi states to the Crown will terminate (Political Department, 1947: 23); e. The Standstill Agreement also paved the way for the unification of all areas in the Khasi Hills. All Khasi villages which were once part of a Khasi state should be allowed to join their former state if they so desired. Other parts of British India-Khasi territory (that is, the British areas) should, if they desired, be allowed to join the Federation as units (Basan, 1948: 1-3).

Conclusion The hectic political developments in the Khasi Hills in the years 194647 enabled the Khasi states to engage in consultation with numerous agencies and groups. The political discussions and the desire of the Khasi states for a unified Khasi Hills (through a federal autonomous pattern with Assam) under the administration of traditional elements of polity were countered by the proponents of a democratic electoral framework within a federal, parliamentary structure of administration. The proponents of the latter had experienced the functioning of this type of administration in the Assam Legislative Assembly and wanted the Khasi Hills to be associated with Assam through this more representative system of administration. It was ultimately the Khasi states that were the preferred political agency to engage in direct negotiations with the States Department. What concerned the British authorities as well as the British India authorities on the eve of India’s Independence was the legal status and position of the Khasi states. In his letter to Sardar Vallabhai Patel on September 2, 1947, Akbar Hydari, the Governor of Assam wrote that the legal position of the Khasi states was no different from that of other Indian states and “subject to paramountcy, the Siems are sovereign in respect of their own territories” (Political Department, 1947: 19). Thus, to avoid the legal consequences of the lapse of paramountcy where the Khasi states would once again assume sovereign status, British India authorities were keen to take steps to initiate negotiations with the Khasi states. Initially, the Khasi states were treated on a par with other Indian states. They were asked to appoint a representative (along with the states of Manipur and Tripura) to the Negotiating Committee of the Constituent Assembly. The Khasi states were also invited for a meeting with the States Department on July 25, 1947. However the Governor of Assam expressed his reservations at offering the Khasi states this status that was extended to other Indian states. Owing to the “geographical position, backwardness and smallness of Khasi states” he suggested that negotiations with the Khasi states be

The Khasi States and the British


held at the provincial level (that is, in Shillong) instead of Delhi. Further, the Governor of Assam desired that the integration of the Khasi states (to the Dominion of India) should be undertaken through the Provincial Government of Assam to prevent them from joining the Dominion of Pakistan through Sylhet. The Federation of Khasi States was the useful instrument to actualise this process of integration since a majority of the Khasi states had joined the Federation (Political Department, 1947: 20). Thus the provincial administration, through the Governor of Assam executed the necessary Agreements (the Standstill Agreement and the Instruments of Accession) with the recognised organisation of the Federation of Khasi States as well as with the Khasi states. The FKS at this time had a larger following and acceptance despite the existence of other organisations such as the Khasi and Jaintia Federated State National Conference. Moreover the Khasi states had treaty rights and obligations with the British; hence they were the legal local authorities with whom to engage in negotiations. The signing of the Standstill Agreement and the Instruments of Accession before the actual lapse of paramountcy denied the Khasi states the taste of independence. The Khasi states witnessed no interim period to decide their future political course of action when suzerainty of British paramountcy came to an end and the paramountcy of the Dominion of India took over. The agreements signed by the Federation of Khasi States and the Khasi states sought to maintain the status quo ante with the difference that the Khasi states now formed an integral part of the Dominion of India through administrative relations with the province of Assam. In his letter to Sardar Vallabhai Patel in September 1947, Akbar Hydari wrote that, the Agreement with the Federation gives the Khasi Siems very little beyond what they already have and certainly not more than the measure of local autonomy which we have publicly announced we are willing to give to Tribal people, subject of course to safeguards. (Political Department, 1947: 21)

Hydari further adds that he has stopped implementing the Standstill Agreement which came into force on August 15, 1947. As a result no judge or magistrates have yet been appointed (as per the Standstill Agreement the judges of the Federation’s Court would enjoy the powers of a Sessions Judge) and the Deputy Commissioner of Shillong still carries on the functions of the old-time Political Officer (Political Department, 1947: 21-22). This correspondence reveals that the same relations that


Chapter Two

existed with the British continued to exist after August 15, 1947 the only difference being the new political authority was the Dominion of India.

Notes 1. The term “state” is used in a very general sense as there is no equivalent term


3. 4.



for the word Hima in English. The Khasi Hima like a state had certain characteristics––a demarcated territory, a stratified population, a system of administration and independence especially in the pre-British period. Further, the term “state” was commonly used by the British in their writings when they referred to the Khasi Himas as Cossyah states or Kasia states. Following the Battle of Buxar in October 1764, the English East India Company received the right of Dewani over the Bengal Subah whose area stretched to the southern lowlands of the Khasi Hills. This phase of British administration brought the English East India Company into trade relations with the Khasi states (see Syiemlieh, 1989: 10-12). This three-member delegation comprised of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. G. S. Guha was chosen to represent the Khasi states, Manipur and Tripura in the Constituent Assembly. He was expected to participate in the negotiations at the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the princely states that he represented. Guha presented his credentials before the Constituent Assembly and signed the register on July 14, 1947 [Lyngdoh, 1996: 181; Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings), IV]. The Indian Independence Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on July 18, 1947 provided for the partition of British India into two new sovereign Dominions, Indian and Pakistan with effect from August 15, 1947. On this date British suzerainty over the princely states lapsed and Indian states would become independent in their political relations with the governments of the new Dominions. On July 6, 1947, following a referendum, almost all of the erstwhile district of Sylhet became a part of the new Dominion of Pakistan’s province of East Bengal, barring the Karimganj sub-division which was incorporated into the province of Assam of the Dominion of India.

The Khasi States and the British


References Books and Reports Allen, W. J. 1858. Report on the Administration of the Cossyah and Jynteah Hills Territory (Reprinted 1903). Shillong. Bareh, Hamlet. 1985. The History and Culture of the Khasi People (2nd Edition). Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Basan, L. L. D. 1948. The Khasi States under the India Union. Shillong. Cantlie, K. 1974. Notes on Khasi Law (edited and reprinted by A. S. Khongphai). Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. Chaube, S. K. 1999. Hill Politics in Northeast India (updated edition). Hyderabad: Orient Longman. Dutta, P. N. 1982. Impact of the West on the Khasi and Jaintias. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications. Gassah, L. S. 2007. “Prelude to Integration: Political Consciousness, Political Organisations and Development in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills”. In Sajal Nag et al. Making of the Indian Union: Merger of Princely States and Excluded Areas. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Giri, Helen. 1998. The Khasis under British Rule (1824-1947). New Delhi: Regency Publications. Ki Proceedings Jong Ka Khasi National Dorbar (Dorbar Hima Khasi). 1923. Shillong: Shillong Printing Works. Lebar, M. Frank et al. 1964. Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files Press. Lyngdoh, C. R. 2013. “Identity Formation in the Khasi Hills: The Khasi National Dorbar”. In Apurba K. Baruah & Susmita Sen Gupta (eds.) Social Forces and Politics in North East India. Guwahati: DVS Publishers. Lyngdoh, R. S. 1996. Government and Politics in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Sanchar Publishing House. Mansergh, N. 1977. Constitutional Relations between Britain and India–– The Transfer of Power, 1942-1947. Vol. VII. The Cabinet Mission 23 March-29 June 1946. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Syiemlieh, D. R. 1989. British Administration in Meghalaya: Policy and Pattern. New Delhi: Heritage Publishers. Syiemlieh, D. R. 2007. “The Integration of the Khasi States into the Indian Union”. In Sajal Nag et al. Making of the Indian Union: Merger of Princely States and Excluded Areas. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House.


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Other Sources Assam Legislative Assembly––since 1937. Accessed through, Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings). Volume IV. 1947. Accessed through Lyngdoh, C. R. 2009. Demand for Constitutional Recognition of the Khasi States: Role of the Syiems of Khyrim and Mylliem. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Shillong: NEHU. Political Department and the Ministry of States. 1947. File No. 34–P.R.


Introduction According to the Meghalaya Human Development Report 2008, the Khasi are one of the three major tribes of Meghalaya; the other two being the Jaintia and the Garo (GOM, 2009). But in reality, the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills belong to the same tribe called “Ki Hynniew Trep Hynniew Skum” (Nongkynrih, 2001: 120; War, 1998: 16). Linguistically, the Khasis stand apart from the other tribes of North-East India, because they speak a dialect of the Mon-Khmer linguistic group which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family. The Austric speaking Khasi are living in an isolated pocket encircled by peoples who speak the Tibeto-Burman languages. In 1960, Pater Schmidt showed that linguistically the Khasi are related to Mon-Khmer speakers of the Malay Peninsula as well as to the Nicobari. On the other hand he proposed an association between the MonKhmer and the Munda language (Das, 1998: 45). It is also said that the Khasis are closest to the Vietnamese in terms of linguistic family and that there is evidence of a Khasi migration route from Vietnam and South East Asia (Mitri, 2011: 91). The Khasis were the first to migrate into the northeastern region of India and were later followed by the various Tibetans, Shans and Tibeto-Burman tribes (Chatterjee, 1951; Hazarika, 2011: 18; Kamkhenthang, 2011: 104-105). The Khasi society is now universally recognised as having a distinct identity historically and culturally, and its traditional political institutions are also recognised by the Constitution of India through the Sixth Schedule.


Chapter Three

The Concept of the Kur (clan) The Khasi traditional political system is said to be operating through the three-tier institutions of the dorbar shnong (village council), the dorbar raid (council of a cluster of villages) and the dorbar hima (state council), and revolves around the institution of the kur (matrilineal kinship system) and the dorbar (council). In all the stages of political evolution, the kurs (clans) played the vital role. The kur among the Khasis is the kinship system based on matrilineal descent and avunculate leadership. The concept of kur is an expression of the underlying kinship system which itself is related to the basic structural organisation of Khasi society (Choudhury, 1985: 137). The kur is the first social entity of the Khasis around which every social institution revolves, and the Khasi system of dorbars starts with the dorbar kur or clan council (Giri, 1985: 159). The kinship system is the most important aspect of the Khasi social system that provides the primary norms of behaviour in Khasi society. As Khasi society is matrilineal, where lineage and descent are traced through the female, primary importance is given to the relationships with the matrilineal kin (War, 1998: 18). According to Sohblei Sngi Lyngdoh the original Khasi matrilineal system constitutes the following elements: (i) the uncle as the centre of authority and economy; and (ii) the uncle’s sister with her children from a father from another clan, who has nothing to do with this family except procreation. In this system, the uncle is the pivot around which the whole family revolves. First of all, the uncle is the centre of authority over the whole clan or over a particular branch of the family. He is the administrator of all the goods movable and immovable, of the family or even of the whole clan, and his authority is supreme and undisputed. Of all the members of the family, the uncle is the chief earner and worker; hence he administers principally the products of his toil and moil, of his sweat and perspiration (Lyngdoh, 1998: 33). So, a Khasi family was primarily a family of mother, children and uncles. A maternal uncle in the Khasi-Jaintia custom used to occupy a place of pride in a family or kinship group (Passah, 1998: 75). However, though the uncle’s status in the house of his sisters, among his nephews and nieces, is supreme, authoritative and decisive, he is nevertheless a mere dummy in the house of his wife (Snaitang, 1998: 56). In contrast with the uncle, the father is an outsider, who has no authority; he has no control and no say whatsoever in the lives of his wife and children. He is only the respected, esteemed and appreciated procreator. As a matter of fact, the father is completely absent from his wife and children during the day.

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


Only at night is he with his wife and not necessarily with his children (Lyngdoh, 1998; Nongkynrih, 2002). It is also said that among the traditional Jaintias, the husband only visits his wife at night and generally leaves her house at dawn. Therefore, he is like a stranger in his wife's house and can hardly interfere in the family matters of her clan (Passah, 1998: 75-76). What the clan needed most was to have as many children, especially daughters, so that it could provide continuity and not face the unfortunate fate of extinction (Snaitang, 1998: 58). The father may leave his wife and children but the uncle can never disown his sister and her children nor can his sister and children disown the uncle. In the past, it was never known for a Khasi family to be broken and destroyed. Whatever the father might do as an outsider, the uncle remains with his sister and her children all the time except for a few hours of the night when he goes to sleep with his wife in her house (Lyngdoh, 1998: 35). In any three-generational Khasi iing, husbands in two consecutive generations may be found. These husbands, as affines, always remain and behave as outsiders, vis-à-vis other members of the iing in matters concerning the domestic and extra domestic domains of the iing. Their only role was in “husbanding” the wives and showing affection to the children in whatever manner they desire (Nongkynrih, 2002: 52-53). It is also opined that in the traditional set-up, the Khasis never knew the term “illegitimate child” because the child carries the mother’s clan name and once conceived, is an organic part of the mother’s clan. When a child is born it is part of a larger extended family and does not feel the pangs of having been abandoned even if the father leaves the family (Mukhim, 2008). So, other than the requirement of procreation, a Khasi traditional family can survive normally and well without the father if the uncles are around to provide economic support and social security. This kind of social situation may not be a peculiarity of Khasi society alone. Scholars say that in matrilineal descent groups, married men are not completely transferred to their affinal group and they retain their membership and authority in their natal groups (Schneider and Gough, 1961), and a matrilineal system can survive and flourish, only if the males are completely dependent on their own natal matrilineal descent groups except for the minimal necessity of marriage. Matriliny requires an interdependence of brother and sister (Chacko, 1998: 11). Traditionally, the kur among the Khasis has four institutional identities:


Chapter Three

a. the kur is a religion binding on all its members; b. it is an independent economy in which all members were socially and economically secured; c. it is a sociological member of society through which all clan members could have social identity; and d. it is a political institution, through which every clan member can have political relations with the society.

The Kur as a Political Organisation Basically, Khasi society was established and regulated not by the polity, but through ka longkur-longkha (inter-marriage of the clans). Socially and spiritually the kurs are conceived of as equal and independent entities. Political institutions emerged among the kurs in the village, the raid and the hima for the purpose of regulating ka longkur-longkha, the maintenance of peace, and for common defence. Religious affairs and economy are the internal affairs of the kurs. Hence, the Khasi political system was based on the foundation of the kur system historically and ideologically. Politically the Khasis consider the clan as a political unit. The individual male representatives from each clan of the dorbar-shnong, dorbar-raid or dorbar-hima were recognised not in their own personal capacity but always on behalf of their kur. A man who is the syiem in office, whether he be an uncle, brother, son or grandson of ka syiem-sad (syiem’s mother) is only a representative in society, dorbar or kur on behalf of ka syiem-sad (Lyngdoh, 1938: vi). Ka syiem-sad, here represents the syiem clan. This principle applies not only to the syiem but to all myntri or bakhraw (noble) clans as well. As the Khasis are following a matrilineal descent, they institute the family, religion and also the state and political system on the basis of the woman (Lyngdoh, 1938: 67). The syiem as well as the bakhraws (founding clans’ representatives) are only the representatives and functionaries on behalf of their clans (Lyngdoh, 1938: 84). British colonial officers have also recorded that the dorbar can disqualify the syiem from holding that office if he has no sister or other near female relative to assist him in the performance of the requisite state religious ceremonies and if he declines or is unable to obtain adoption by another branch of the syiem family (Herbert, 1903).

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


Ka Kur-Ka Jait in Political Affairs It has been commonly described that the concept of “jait” refers to the various sub-divisions of a kur (Giri, 1985: 163-166). In reality the concept of ka jait does not refer to the sub-divisions of the kur as commonly believed, but it refers to the political office which a kur holds in a political community. The sub-divisions of a kur or anything may be called “jaid”, but not “jait”. The word “jaid” means kind, and it has a general application to all things. “Bun jaid ki syntiew” means many kinds of flowers. “Bun jaid ki kpoh ka kur” means many kinds of sub-divisions of the kur. But the word “jait” refers only to the kind of office a particular kur is holding in a particular State. The word jait seems similar to the word jat or jati, a concept prevalent among other Indian societies. But the Khasi concept of jait does not carry a similar meaning. It is not an economic division of labour like “jati”, and it is also not a hierarchy of social order like “varna”, but it is a political division of labour among the founding clans of the raid or hima. At the time when the small political communities were formed, every kur was also a jait. Every kur in the past was a binong-bishon (aristocratic clan) with a particular jait in its own original raid. When a group of clans settled in a certain geographical territory and constituted a raid or hima (state), as the founding clans they distributed among themselves various political and religious responsibilities or jaits, as the syiem, lyngdoh, basan, daloi, pator, sangot, maji, soh-blei, shutia, etc., and collectively they constituted the dorbar-longsan or the dorbar-ki bakhraw (council of elders or council of noble ones). All the people in the state belonging to these longsan clans have a kur as well as a jait, hence the concept of, “ka kur-ka jait”. In Raid Thaiang (this commune is located in the Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya), the kur Thaiang functions as a jait lyngdoh, the kur Myrsingsyiem functions as the jait syiem, the kur Myrsing-lubra functions as the jait daloi. The kur Narlong was formerly a jait syiem in Raid Thaiang, but when it was ousted from Raid Thaiang and migrated to Raid Nongkhrah it was adopted there as a jait kong-san. In Raid Iapngar, the jait syiem is of the kur Shadap-Kharpati, while the jait lyngdoh is of the kur Shadap-Pnar. A jait lyngdoh Mylliem is of the kur Marbaniang; a jait lyngdoh Sohiong is of the kur Thabah; the kur Malngiang is the jait syiem in hima Mawsynram. The kur Syngkli is a jait pator in Raid Nongkhrah; the kur Malai is a jait syiem in Hima Malai-Sohmat but it is a jait daloi in Raid Nongtluh, and so on and so forth.


Chapter Three

When a kpoh (section) of the kur migrates to another raid it cannot carry its status as an aristocratic clan into that raid, but becomes an ordinary clan or ki shongthap-shongbiang, unless it is adopted by the dorbar longsan (council of elders) of the raid and assigned a particular jait. The Masharing clan which was a kpoh (section) of the jait Lyngdoh of Raid Thaiang migrated to Raid Nongtung, and in due course of time they were conferred with a new jait called basan-pator in Raid Nongtung. So, the Thaiang and the Masharing are of the same kur, but of different jaits. It is said that in Hima Shella there are ki kur (clans) but there are no jait because the kur has nothing to do with the political affairs in the villages or hima. The wahadadars at the hima level, as well as ki tymmen ki san and ki rangbah shnong in the village dorbar called “u sandi”, are elected by all the male adults of the community irrespective of clan (Dkhar, 1993: 59). This indicates that the Shella people in their migration into their present hima had not constituted themselves as founding clans in various jaits as lyngdoh, daloi, pator, maji, sangot, etc. So, the dorbar in the Khasi traditional concept is the council of the representatives of the kurs who have also a jait in any political community. The immigrant clans who have no jait in the political community are called ki shongthap-shongbiang and they have no part in the dorbar and political affairs of the raid or the hima.

Ka Sad-Ka Sunon and the Dorbar The male representatives of the founding clans of the raid or hima have rights in the affairs of the dorbar on the grounds that they have ka sad-ka sunon. No ruling syiem can be considered traditionally and constitutionally a syiem unless he has ka sad-ka sunon because it is the real power behind his seat of power, and the custodian of this institution is not the ruling syiem, but the eldest female member of the syiem family (Lyngdoh, 1985: 3). The institution of ka sad-ka sunon is prevalent not only at the hima level but also at the level of the raid, and it exists not only in the jait syiem but also in the jait lyngdoh and jait bakhraw basan as well. In some raids it is called ka sad-ka dor, and in some others it is called, ka sad-ka duwa. The existence of ka sad-ka sunon among the founding or ruling clans in any political community indicates that that political community has an independent and sovereign political existence. The Khasi society is not a web of social relationships of individuals with a limited life span, but a web of social relationships of the permanent living members in the form of the kurs which have the capacity for selfrenewal or perpetual succession from generation to generation. It is on the

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


concept of the permanent social membership of the kurs that the institution of ka sad-ka sunon is established. The Khasi society does not recognise the fully-fledged membership of an individual in the society because his age is limited. That is also why the Khasis say that the testimony of a man whose kur has become extinct is not acceptable in the dorbar however true his testimony might be because he has a limited period of time to live, and he has no permanent institution to back up the covenant of his statement whether true or false and to carry the good or evil repercussion of his statement for generations to come. According to oral tradition, ka sad-ka sunon is the “ka thymmei” (foundation) of the jait which rests with the kur (matrilineal clan); and the “u thning” (source or living root) which is embodied in the person of a female member of the jait. So, the concept of “ka sad-ka sunon” stands for the continuing existence or source of perpetual succession of the jait, which legitimises the position of the syiem, or the lyngdoh, or the basanbakhraw of the raid or the hima; and “ka sad” is the woman who embodies that source of perpetual succession. The office of the representative of the jait in the dorbar has to be backed up by a female member of his jait. This concept takes concrete material form not in a building called ka Iingsad Iing Sunon as commonly expressed, but in the person of the eldest female member of the jait. The fundamental concept of ka sad-ka sunon is not the seat of the sovereignty of the state, but the sociological guarantee of the jait for the legitimacy of its representative in the political affairs of the community. The sovereignty of the hima does not rest with ka sad-ka sunon of the jait syiem, or with any of the jaits. Even if the jait syiem becomes totally extinct and the surviving male members lose ka sad-ka sunon, the sovereignty of the hima (state) is not destroyed because ka sad-ka sunon of the syiem does not stand for the sovereignty of the hima. Such cases have actually happened in many raids and himas. It has been pointed out that the jait syiem of Hima Bhowal became extinct but the sovereignty of the Hima was not destroyed. The eight founding clans or bakhraws appointed the Nandah clan which was from outside the hima as the new jait syiem (Singh, 1985: 17). From that time on, the Nandah clan also became the jait syiem in Hima Bhowal. Traditionally, the custody of ka sad-ka sunon was always held by the eldest female member of the jait. Every jait in the political community is only a political aspect of the kur which is a wider and greater institution. The kur is also a religion which is considered pure and holy. The kur religion has a religious house or temple in the iing-khatduh, the natal household where the youngest daughter lives in line with customary


Chapter Three

succession. The religious name of this iing-khatduh is “ka iing-seng”. The centre of the social, religious and economic aspects of the kur is in the house of ka khatduh, while the centre of the political aspect or the jait of the kur is in the house of ka khun-rangbah (the eldest daughter) which is called ka iing-sad. The eldest lineage is the custodian of ka sad-ka sunon, and the youngest lineage is the custodian of the economy, the religion and the social membership of the kur. The reason for this functional division is because the sanctity of the kur religion cannot be mingled with the state affairs. Among the jait lyngdoh and jait basan in any traditional raid, the chief priest of the kur religion is an uncle of the iing-khatduh who is called u sohsla. The representative of the jait to offer sacrifices to ki blei-ki dken (state deities) of the raid or hima is called u lyngdoh or u sohblei. Those who have offered sacrifices to the state deities are considered tarnished to officiate in the kur religion. For this reason, members of the iing-khatduh generally, cannot participate in state politics and state religion. The syiem and the syiem-sad, or the lyngdoh and the lyngdoh-sad are in charge of the iingsad, while u sohsla and ka khatduh are in charge of the iingseng. So, in a traditional Khasi dorbar only the representative of the binong-bishon (founding clan) which was a kur as well as a jait, was entitled to participate; and moreover, he should be backed up by the institution of ka sad-ka sunon in the person of his female clan member called ka sad. Today, the kur has lost all of its four traditional characteristics. The Khasi society today rests on the economy of each nuclear family, and the concept of the kur economy becomes irrelevant; the kur is no longer a religion, and in this new situation the maternal uncle has lost his controlling authority because his role and status as the priest and the manager of the kur economy have become irrelevant too. The present Khasi society is no longer a web of social relationships between the kurs, and all individuals, men and women have become fully-fledged members of society apart from the kur. The kur has also drastically lost its role in the political affairs of the present Khasi society at the raid and hima level, and at the present village dorbar level, its role is totally absent.

Nature of the Khasi Dorbar The term “Dorbar” in Khasi polity is a loan word, probably derived from the Persian “darbar” or “durbar”. Whatever may be the origin of the term, information from various sources indicates that the concept of a political council was prevalent among the Khasis, and they had been conducting their political affairs on the basis of the dorbars long before the advent of British rule.

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


According to Khasi tradition the dorbar was considered as a sacred and divine institution. Strict rules were prescribed for how the dorbar should be observed because it was considered a divine agency which was also called ka dorbar ki blei, the dorbar of the gods (Bareh, 1964: 66). It was so-called because the Khasis considered the dorbar like a goddess which they should honour and respect and never take lightly (Mawrie, 2000: 73). According to E. Weston Dkhar, the place where a dorbar is conducted is called “ka lympung-ka duwan” (a gathering at the altar) or “ka pyndem-ka duwan” (a submission to spiritual authority at the altar). Before the commencement of a dorbar, the Khasis cried out three times to honour God and to inform all concerned that the dorbar was about to commence. The lyngdoh or basan or tymmen-shnong also invoked the presence of God, and the gods and goddesses, as witness and for guidance, and only then would the sitting of the dorbar be legitimately constituted (Dkhar, 1993: 18). At every important dorbar the elders leading the dorbar invoke the presence of u ryngkew-u basa (protecting the god of the commune), as well as the spirits of the ancestors who first constituted politics and religion in the commune. They also invoke in general the presence of the spirits of all preceding lyngdohs and basans who have passed away before them. The resolutions of the dorbar thus duly constituted were considered sacred because they had been witnessed by the presence of God and the deities of the commune as well as by the spirits of the ancestors. So, the Khasi traditional concept of “dorbar” is not only mundane and social, but sacred and divine. The authority of the dorbar does not depend only on the coercive authority of the political institution, but also on mutual submission to sacred and divine authority. It is generally opined that the basic political communes administered themselves by councils of which every adult male was a member (Singh, 1985: 15-16). However, according to some other authorities, not all male adults of the community can participate in the Khasi traditional dorbar, as it was constituted only of male adults above fifty years of age and representing their respective clans (Bacchiarello, 2005: 92). In the view of Kynpham Singh, the idea that all adult males can be members of a dorbar is a recent concession (Singh, 1985: 21). A few decades ago it was the syiem, the bakhraw and ki tymmen ki san, elders above 50 years of age, who constituted a dorbar (Abele, 1903: 29-32). H. O. Mawrie (2000: 73) and J. K. Tariang (2012: 184) are also of the view that members of the dorbar should be elders who have attained the age of 50 years and above. On the restriction to the dorbar’s representation, Kynpham Singh pointed out two main reasons: (i) because recorded proceedings were yet unknown, so the dorbar had to depend on the memories of its members to


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recall precedents; and (ii) by restricting the age limit, the dorbars were kept small and manageable (Singh, 1985: 21). Another reason besides the above pointed out by Kynpham Singh, is that a person well qualified to represent his kur (clan) in the dorbar is one who is an uncle representing as many iings (households) or as many kpohs (lineages) of the clan as possible; therefore he must necessarily be a man senior in age. According to Khasi traditional political thought, for a dorbar to be legally valid, the presence and participation of the following categories of members are a necessary condition: (i) u syiem, ki bakhraw (representatives of founding clans), and ki tymmen ki san (village elders); or (ii) ki bakhraw, and ki tymmen ki san; or (iii) ki bakhraw only. The dorbar would be invalid if it is attended and participated only by: (i) u syiem and ki tymmen ki san; or (ii) only ki tymmen ki san; or (iii) only u paid u phew (the commons) (Bacchiarello, 2005: 92). Analysis of these conditions indicates that for a Khasi traditional dorbar to be valid, the presence and participation of the bakhraws were absolutely necessary. This was so because the bakhraws were the representatives of the founding clans in whom territorial authority was vested, severally at the raid level and collectively at the hima level.

The Position of Women in the Khasi Dorbar It is the institution of “ka sad-ka sunon” which is embodied in a female member of the jait called ka sad which legitimises the position of the syiem, or the lyngdoh, or the basan or bakhraw of the raid or the hima. This shows the importance of women in Khasi traditional political thought. But in spite of all this importance given to women, their involvement in public administration and political dorbars is forbidden. The question arises as to why the participation of women in the dorbar and other public affairs is restricted. The reason generally given for such a restriction is because politics, civil defence, justice and priesthood were considered the domains of men (Roy, 1937; Roy, 2012: 112-113). Hence, women who dare to voice their opinions on such public affairs are regarded as crowing hens, which is almost a taboo (Dkhar, 1993: 27), and are chastised and regarded as freaks of nature (Nongbri, 2003: 187) because they portend the end of the world (Dkhar, 1993: 28). Even to this day, some people in the villages still kill the hen that crows and attach its head to a pole, displaying it at the road junction in the village to thwart such a curse. There are three actual reasons why the participation of women in dorbars and other public affairs is restricted. The first reason is because

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


the Khasi traditional iing (family) is said to be a family of a woman and her children, with caring and protecting uncles. The father’s presence or absence was insignificant in the social interactions of ka iing. In fact, a man was not allowed to represent his wife and children in the traditional dorbars. Dorbar representation was always on behalf of the kur. The basic political institution among the Khasis had been the dorbar-kur (clan council). In the dorbar-kur, all clan members, male and female can participate. Indeed, a dorbar-kur is invalid if no female clan member is present. In the dorbar-kur all interests of the clan, especially the interests of the women were thoroughly discussed and the resolutions passed in the clan dorbar were presented and pursued by u kni rangbah (the chief uncle) who attended the state dorbar on behalf of his clan, and all matters relating to the welfare and interests of his mother, sisters and nieces were presented and championed by him together with the support of other uncles. When resolutions were adopted in the dorbar-kur, all clan members were bound to stand in one voice through the mouth of their clan representative, the basan or bakhraw supported by his brothers and nephews. The popular slogan is, “Tyrrak tak tak, ngin ia leh ha ban da jop kumba phah i mei na ïing”. Literally this would mean, “Hurray! We will fight victoriously as instructed or desired by mother”. But in the real sense the slogan means, “Hurray! We will fight and pursue our cause vigorously until victory as per resolution passed in our clan council”. It is in this spirit of the uncles representing and defending the clan that Soso Tham (1976: 32), in his poem says: Namar ka iing, ka kur ka jaid (For the family and the clan), Un khie u sum ka stieh ka stieh ka wait (Shall rise the spear the shield and the sword).

The idea of a crowing hen was not really based on the belief that the world would end when the hen crows or when a woman speaks in a dorbar, but it was merely a sarcastic remark which a Khasi man or woman would make to a woman of another clan generally in events of inter-clan feuds. The remark is an implication not to the person of the woman alone, but to her kur as a whole. The insult is aimed at the uncles who failed to successfully conduct social interactions on behalf of their kur, thus compelling the mother, the sister or the niece to come forward and assert her claim. The reason that a woman is chastised as a crowing hen is because when she attends a dorbar and pleads for herself it reflects on a kur without uncles which is called sah-kynthei-khynnah, and this amounts to insult and embarrassment for her brothers and uncles. So, in principle, it was not that Khasi women were disallowed from attending public dorbars,


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it was then unnecessary for them to do so as it was solely for their own interests that their uncles were attending the public dorbars. The second reason why Khasi women were not allowed to participate in a public dorbar is because in the past every political community had its own state deities, whether gods or goddesses. As said in the foregoing, in every dorbar the presence not only of God Almighty but also the presence of whosoever among these state deities according to the subject matter of the dorbar were invoked to stand witness and record accounts of the resolutions or covenants that the participants in the dorbar were entering into. Therefore the traditional Khasi dorbar was charged by the presence of spirits to which a man would not like his sisters or nieces to be exposed. The elders say that “Ym ju don rukom hakhmat ki blei ban ia suid ia shor ne ia tang ia pung bad ka kynja ba pun ba kha” (Dkhar, 1993: 27). This means that it is not proper for a woman who carries in her person the faculty of conceiving and giving birth, to be involved in communications with spiritual beings. The women carry in their persons the wombs which stand guarantee for the kur’s continuing existence from generations to generations, and hence, also guarantee the perpetual succession of the clan’s political membership in the community. The womb which every kur member is carrying in her person was called, “ka jar-ksiar iawbei” (the golden enclosure of the ancestress). This golden enclosure of the ancestress must be protected at all costs from being tarnished by human beings or spirits. It was considered unfortunate if a woman in the fullness of youth or in pregnancy were to be compelled by circumstances to attend a dorbar charged by the presence of spirits. That is why, the dorbar, where men and spirits are mingled in a charged atmosphere was considered to be a male affair. In some state religious rituals where the presence of women is necessary they usually appoint women who are past the productive age or old women to take part in the rituals. So according to Khasi thought on these grounds too it was not a question of gender discrimination when women were excluded from public dorbars, but a question of honour and protection. The third reason why the restriction on women’s participation in the dorbar was not considered as gender discrimination is because the restriction is not seen as a defect in the sociological legitimacy of the dorbar in Khasi society. As a matter of fact the act of attending a dorbar shnong is considered not as a matter of right conferred upon the male adults, but on the contrary it is considered as a socially imposed responsibility or compulsion imposed on the male adults that they are bound to attend the dorbar. That is also why fines are imposed on the male adults of the village who fail to attend the session of the dorbar shnong.

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


Hamlet Bareh (1964: 62) describes the village dorbar as a very important dorbar which all male adults ought to attend. Bareh used the phrase “ought to” because the Khasis consider the act of attending a dorbar not as a personal right but as a socially imposed responsibility. This concept is also reflected in the “Ceremony of ka Teh Rangbah” provided in Section 6 of the (Village Administration) Bill, 2014, recently passed by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC). This ceremony indicates that it is not a right conferred on every male who attains the age of 18 years to participate in the dorbar but it is an imposition of a social responsibility. The very word “teh” which means “to bind” indicates the concept behind it. Sometimes, the concept, teh rangbah is also called batdorbar (catching a person to the dorbar). People in the villages also do not usually say that women are not permitted to attend a dorbar, but they say that women are not compelled to attend and participate in the dorbar or that they are not fined for not attending it. In today’s social situation, it is found that the traditional functionaries in the raids exercise power mostly for their own individual interests, and their answerability to the kur or the female clan members is negligible. So the principle that the uncles are representing the interests of the female clan members in the dorbar is no longer relevant. The principle that female clan members embody ka sad-ka sunon which legitimises the political offices of the male representatives in the dorbar has become irrelevant as far as the dorbar shnong is concerned. As such, the women’s role of producing the heirs necessary to maintain the clan’s perpetual succession in political office has become irrelevant too. In the present-day dorbar shnong, the male adults attend dorbar not on behalf of their clans at all but for their own personal interests and on behalf of their nuclear families. God or other spirits are no longer religiously invoked to be present as witnesses in the dorbar of the villages or the raids. So the principle of protecting women from defilement of the occult relations has also become irrelevant. In today’s context, it is a matter of right for an individual to participate in the political affairs of the community. Hence the idea that the act of attending a dorbar shnong is not a matter of right but a responsibility or a compulsion imposed on the male adults, is no longer relevant in the modern context. Therefore, the grounds for the restriction of women’s participation in public affairs have become irrelevant, and the restriction itself has no longer traditional grounds of justice, and hence it becomes gender discrimination.


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The Modern Dorbar Shnong The dorbar shnong today is a new grassroots governance institution built upon precepts of the past, and evolving out of the amalgamation of Khasi clan-based democracy and modern individual-based popular democracy, operating in a new social situation. Khasi traditional polity revolved around the clans, but the present dorbar shnong is no longer a clan-based institution but is open to all the resident adults of the village irrespective of clan affiliations. Being a new grassroots governance institution that was built upon the precepts of the past and inheriting the traditional line of the dorbar raid, the dorbar shnong today is also established on grounds of territorial authority. A dorbar shnong has to acquire territorial jurisdiction in order to be able to function as a legitimate political authority. A village which has no definite boundary has no territorial authority and hence, cannot be a fully-fledged village with an independent dorbar shnong. So, the issue of territorial authority over the land is a basic requisite for the establishment of a fully-fledged Shnong (village) and the dorbar shnong. The dorbar shnong today has the support of the free choice of the Khasi inhabitants of the village as a spontaneous social authority that emerged from within and that was not imposed from outside the society. So as far as the Khasi society is concerned, the dorbar shnong is also sociologically legitimate, though it is not fully democratic by the exclusion of women, and being ethno-centric in nature it is not sociologically legitimate in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community. The legitimacy of the authority of the dorbar shnong today is based on its being an amalgamation of tradition and modern democracy where every head of the households has the right to participate in the dorbar and in administration irrespective of clan affiliations. Its legitimacy is also based on its relevance with the present socio-economic needs of the inhabitants, as it is recognised as an agency of the Government in implementing socioeconomic development programmes, by its role in the maintenance of law and order, and in dispute resolution among the people. However, the evolution of the dorbar shnong has roots in the social and cultural history of the society. So even if the dorbar shnong is not traditional, it is a Khasi indigenous institution evolving and operating in a new social situation with an increasing democratic transformation in its constitution and procedures. There is ample evidence of a gradual and natural persistent shift in the system of governance at grassroots level towards modern participatory democracy.

The Kur and Dorbar in the Khasi Traditional Polity


References Abele, Fr. (ed.) 1903. Nongialam Katholik No. 2. Rymphang 1903. Cited in Singh, K. 1985. “Syiems and Durbars in Khasi Polity”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Bacchiarello, J. 1930. Ki Dienjat jong ki Longshuwa (sixth edition: 2005). Shillong: Don Bosco Book Depot. Bareh, H. 1964. Khasi Democracy. Shillong: Hamlet Bareh. Cantlie, K. 1934. Notes on Khasi Law (reprint: 2008-09). Shillong: Chapala Publishing House. Chacko, P. M. 1998. “Introduction”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya: Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Chatterjee, S. K. 1951. The Indo-Mongoloids: Their Contribution to the History and Culture of India. Calcutta: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. Choudhury, J. N. 1985. “Kur (clan) in relation to Khasi matriliny, land ownership and village organisation”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Das, B. M. 1998. “Some Aspect of the Physical Anthropology of the Tribes of Northeast India”. In Sebastian Karotemprel (ed.) The Tribes of Northeast India. Shillong: Centre for Indigenous Cultures. Dkhar, E. W. 1993. Ka Pyrkhat Synshar Khadar u Khasi. Shillong: Miss Blindaioris Dkhar. Giri, H. 1985. “Social Institutions of the Khasis: with special reference to Kinship, Marriage, Family life and Divorce”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Giri, H. 1998. The Khasis under British Rule (1824-1947). New Delhi: Regency Publications. GoM, 2009. “Meghalaya Human Development Report 2008”. Shillong: Planning Department, Government of Meghalaya. Gurdon, P. R. T. 1906. The Khasis (reprint: 2010). New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Hazarika, M. 2011. “Shared Cultural Background of Certain North East Indian Tribes: Some Thoughts in Archaeological Perspective”. In Marco Mitri & Desmond Kharmawphlang (eds.) The North East Umbrella: Cultural-Historical Interaction of the Tribes in the Region (Pre-Historic to 21st Century). Shillong: DBCIC Publications. Herbert, D. 1903. Succession to Syiemships in the Khasi State. Shillong: Directorate of Arts and Culture, Meghalaya.


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Kamkhenthang, H. 2011. “Migratory Movements of the Chin-Mizo-Zomi Tribes”. In Marco Mitri & Desmond Kharmawphlang (eds.) The North East Umbrella: Cultural-Historical Interaction of the Tribes in the Region (Pre-Historic to 21st Century). Shillong: DBCIC Publications. Lyngdoh, H. 1938. Ki Syiem Khasi bad Synteng (reprint: 2003). Shillong: Desmond P. Reade Diengdoh. Lyngdoh, R. S. 1985. “Ka Sad ka Sunon”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Lyngdoh, Sngi. 1998. “The Khasi Matriliny: Its past and its future”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya: Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Mawrie, H. O. 1972. Ka Pyrkhat u Khasi (reprint: 2000). Shillong: Kong Tmissilda Soh. Mitri, M. 2011. “Exploring Prehistoric Identity: Focusing on Cultural Tradition and Lithic Technology in North East India”. In Marco Mitri & Desmond Kharmawphlang (eds.) The North East Umbrella: Cultural-Historical Interaction of the Tribes in the Region (PreHistoric to 21st Century). Shillong: DBCIC Publications. Mukhim, P. 2008. “Land ownership among the Khasis of Meghalaya: a gender Perspective”. In W. Fernandez & S. Barbara (eds.) Land, peoples and politics: Contest over tribal lands in northeast India. Gauhati: Northeast Social Research Centre. Nongbri, T. 2003. Development, Ethnicity and Gender: Selected Essays on Tribes in India. New Delhi: Rawat Publications. Nongkynrih, A. K. 2001. “‘Ka Shnong’ the Microcosm of Hynniewtrep Society”. Indian Horizon (Special Issue: North Eastern States of India). Vol. 48. No. 3. New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Nongkynrih, A. K. 2002. Khasi Society of Meghalaya: A Sociological Understanding. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. Passah, P. M. 1998. “Change of the Matrilineal System of Khasi-Jaintia”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Roy, D. 1937. “Ka Jaka U Khasi ha ka Pyrthei”. Ka Syngkhong Jingtip. Vol. I. October 1937. Roy, M. D. 2012. David Roy: A Khasi Remembered. Shillong: Malcolm Davis Roy. Schneider, David M., and Kathleen Gough (eds.). 1961. Matrilineal Kinship. California: University of California Press. Sinha, A. P. 1985. “The Pnar Family”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications.

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Singh, K. 1985. “Syiems and Durbars in Khasi polity”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Singh, K. 1985. “The Khasi Law on Property”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Gauhati: Spectrum Publications. Snaitang, O. L. 1998. “The impact of Christianity on the Khasi-Jaintia Matrilineal Family”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya: Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Tariang, J. K. 2012. The Philosophy and Essence of Niam Khasi. Nongkrem: Ms. Ipomea Warshong and Mr. J. Kerrsingh Tariang. Tham, S. 1925. Ki Sngi Barim u Hynniew Trep (reprint: 1976). Shillong: Primrose Gatphoh. War, J. 1998. “The Khasi Concept of Family: Changes in Structure and Function”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya: Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications.


Introduction The Khasi (one of the major tribes of Meghalaya) have their own traditional political institutions. Khasi polity was based on custom, tradition and usages. In Khasi society a village, known as a Shnong, consists of several domestic groups living in a definite area. These domestic groups belong to different clans. Oral tradition tells us that families belonging to the same clan, ka Kur lived together in groups. But gradually as clans grew and expanded they amalgamated with other clans. Thus Khasi villages slowly evolved to be multi-clan in composition consisting of households of a depth of two-to-three generations. In the rural areas however these households could be viewed as corporate groups, while this may not be the case in the urban areas. Traditionally, every village formulates a set of rules and regulations to maintain discipline and harmony amongst the residents. Violation of these rules is determined collectively by the village council, dorbar shnong. The idea of the dorbar shnong, the collective decision-making body at any level of polity formation, is central to the Khasi political system. The day-to-day problems of the village are looked into by a group of members selected by the dorbar shnong who constitute a smaller body or council. The dorbar shnong is a very important political institution in Khasi society. Each village has its own dorbar shnong under a headman, Rangbah Shnong or Tymmen Shnong and his subordinates, who are selected in the general assembly meeting of all residents at the dorbar shnong. All male adults of the village are members of the dorbar. The Rangbah Shnong alone has no power to decide on any issue. It is the

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


general assembly of all residents that has the sovereign power and the will of the people at large is held as the highest will in this traditional political set-up. The Rangbah Shnong is the representative head of the village. He is responsible for the general wellbeing of the people living in the village. Maintaining peace and tranquility is one of his main concerns. The Rangbah Shnong is also concerned with the protection of the natural resources (land, water and forest) and maintenance of law and order in the village. All cases of dispute over the sharing and use of resources as well as cases of crime are brought to the notice of the village community in the form of the general assembly for settlement or punishment. This assembly gathering also exists at the family level, in the form of the clan council, the Dorbar Kur. At the clan council matters are discussed relating to the management and administration of clan property, the appointment of the clan representative, the Rangbah Kur, settlement of family disputes, apportionment of property and various problems facing the clan. Another form of political organisation of the Khasi is the commune, ka Raid which comprises of several villages. Each Raid has its own general assembly (consisting of all adult male members of the constituent villages) and a Raid council (consisting of representatives selected by the major clans of the area under its jurisdiction). At the level of the Raid, the Lyngdoh Raid or the Syiem Raid looks after the administration with the help of his council members. Here the word Lyngdoh, denotes that the incumbent is also in charge of matters relating to the rituals at the Raid level. Each Raid too, has a Dorbar to manage inter-village affairs. These inter-village affairs could pertain to disputes over the boundaries of neighbouring villages, the use or sharing of natural resources such as land, forest and water or to the conduct of members of different villages. All the adult male members of the constituent villages participate in the meetings of the Dorbar Raid. Everyone present has an equal right of participation in the discussion and all matters concerning the Raid are transacted after full deliberation in the meetings. However, the matters which cannot be settled by the Dorbar Raid are referred to the state council, the Dorbar Hima. The Hima was usually formed by the voluntary association of a number of villages and Raid (a conglomeration of a number of villages) or communes. Several villages or communes would join together to constitute a Hima. Traditionally, there were twenty-five Himas spread over the entire Khasi Hills. Hima Khyrim is one such Hima which was formed by six major Raids and a number of administrative units. At the Hima level, there are two institutions; the first institution is the general assembly of the Hima or the Dorbar Hima which consists of all the representatives of the Hima, that is, the Syiem-in Council


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and the representatives selected by the people of all the villages and communes within the Hima. The second institution is the Syiem-in council (U Syiem bad ki Bakhraw) which consists of the Syiem and all the members of the Raid council within the Hima. It must be noted here that an individual whether a Syiem, Lyngdoh, Wahadadar or Sirdar is never vested with any authority or power. The Syiem is not the head of the state (Hima) but he is a nominal head. He cannot perform any act of importance without first consulting and obtaining the approval of the Dorbar Hima. The Syiem, however, presides over the meeting of the smaller committee i.e. the Syiem-in Council, as well as the general assembly. The tenure for the Syiem is for life. Traditionally, a Syiem could be removed only by a decision of the general assembly of the Hima such as in the case of the violation of the customs of the society or the breaking of a taboo or if any serious charges are levied against him. The British intervened in this traditional political set-up of the Khasi by deciding to confer Sanad on the Chief (Syiem) after executing agreements of good conduct with them. The Sanad issued to a Syiem was a deed agreement on the one hand and a certificate of recognition on the other, through which the Syiem was recognised by the British Government as a tribal chief within an autonomous, independent traditional polity. They also intervened in the process of nomination of the Syiem. The changes introduced by the British continued even after the independence of India. The Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India provided for the constitution of the Autonomous District Councils and the Regional Councils in the districts of erstwhile Assam. Further, the Hill State movement (in the erstwhile Khasi and Jaintia Hills district and Garo Hills district) and the creation of Meghalaya from Assam in 1972 led to several issues of conflict such as the pending border issues with Assam. This paper examines and revisits the political set-up of Hima Khyrim with special reference to the Ka Bujai Blang ritual.

Objective of the paper Hima Khyrim is one such Hima which observes and performs the annual community rites as per the traditional Khasi religion, Ka Niam Khasi called Ka Pomblang. The Khasi believe that rites assume a very important place in their lives. As such they perform rites at the level of the individual as well as at the level of the group. Rites are therefore performed for the welfare of the Hima and these community rites emphasise the basic values of society which serve and promote social cohesion in the community. Ka Pomblang consists of a set of rites performed annually during the month of November for the welfare of the

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


Hima Khyrim. These rites spread over a period of five days respectively known as Pamtiah, Umni, Iewduh, Lyngka and Pynsing. This paper focuses on one part of Ka Pomblang which is performed on the evening of the third day, Iewduh, called Ka Bujai Blang. Ka Bujai Blang or the rites of contributing goats by the federating villages/communes to the Syiem signifies two things, namely: 1. The Raids and the villages contributing goats enjoyed general prosperity during the year; 2. The people of the Raids and the villages express their loyalty and their solidarity with the Syiem in praying for the peace, welfare and prosperity of the people forming the largest traditional political collectivity known as the Hima.

Hima Khyrim Prior to the bifurcation of Hima Shyllong (in 1853) into Hima Khyrim and Hima Mylliem, Ka Pomblang was performed at Nongkseh village (in Upper Shillong now presently under Hima Mylliem). After the bifurcation of Hima Shyllong this annual community ritual continued but is now performed at Ka Ϊing Sad which is located in Smit village (about 12 kms east of Shillong) presently under Hima Khyrim. According to oral tradition, Hima Khyrim was known as the Hima of “Saw Kher Lai Lyngdoh” since it consisted of four Raids each under an elder known as Basan and three Raids under the supervision of the Lyngdoh. The four Raids under a Basan are: Nongkseh, Nongumlong, Swer and Synrem or Mawlieh-Mawshai. The three Raids under the Lai Lyngdoh are Mylliem, Nongbri and Pyngrope or Nongbet who enjoyed the right of sending their representatives to the Dorbar Hima of Khyrim. The composition however changed after the bifurcation of Hima Shyllong. Presently Hima Khyrim constitutes six Raids namely, Raid Nongkrem, Raid Nongbri, Raid Mawlieh and Khatar Blang, Raid Mawshai or Phra Blang, Raid Lwai and Raid Nongkynrih. Within these six Raids, there are almost 500 villages, each with their own Dorbar Shnong. Hima Khyrim is administered by the Dorbar of Hima Khyrim, comprising the Syiem, Basans and Sirdars, a council of thirty-one members, ki Myntri, of the aforementioned Raids and the Rangbah Shnongs of the villages. It is the largest Hima in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya and covers an area of about 1000 sq kms. Besides these the Hima also comprises of the Ri um snam or the conquered areas known as Raid lang Shi Khlieh. The Raid “Lang Shi Khlieh”


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comprises of the following villages: Nongbri, Massar, Mukhim, RasongRangphlang and Mukertila.

Ka Pomblang A set of rites is performed in the month of November every year for the welfare of the Hima Khyrim. The main rite is known as Ka Pomblang which involves the sacrifice of uncastrated goats (both sexes) by the Syiem to propitiate the Shillong deity U Blei Shyllong. Through Ka Pomblang the Syiem, on behalf of the people of the Hima, expresses gratitude to U Blei Shyllong (the ruling male deity of Hima Shyllong) and also seeks blessings for the welfare and prosperity of the Hima and its inhabitants. These rites, marked by festivities spread over five days (the days known respectively as Pamtiah, Umni, Iewduh, Lyngka, and Pynsing) are performed by the Syiem, Ka Syiem Sad, Sohblei Rumnong, Sohblei Mawroh, the Duhalia and the Bakhraw in the presence of the people of the Hima. The suffixes “Rumnong” and “Mawroh” refer to two clans inhabiting the Hima. As per the Khasi tradition, the eldest male from each of these two clans is entitled to participate in the performance of the rites and is designated as “Sohblei” (meaning closest to God or “attached” to God). Duhalia are the musicians who participate in the set of rites at various stages and in many ways. Whereas the eldest of the Duhalia participates actively in many of the rites, the other musicians also play a role as every rite is marked by the beating of the drums and the sound of flageolets. Myntris and Lyngdohs hailing from various clans traditionally inhabiting the Hima are referred to as the Bakhraws. The rite of Ka Pomblang is performed at Ka Ϊing Sad––the ancestral residence of Ka Syiem Sad. The term “Ka Syiem Sad” refers to a religious office occupied by a female who is related to the Syiem through his matrilineage. She could be his mother or the eldest among all his sisters, in the absence of his mother, or a sister of his deceased mother or a female parallel cousin. As per the Khasi religious tradition no male was eligible to be selected as a Syiem if he did not have a female relative to play the role of Ka Syiem Sad. Ka Pomblang is a set of rites performed over a period of five days. The different parts of Ka Ϊing Sad including the front courtyard are used for different rites, constituting Ka Pomblang, as described below: 1. The portico (Tyngkong) of Ka Ϊing Sad is used for performing a rite called Ka Dorbar Sla; 2. The central hall, called Ka Shlur, is used for a religious dance and performing the rites of Ka Suit Ka Shor and Ka Suit Dohkha;

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


3. The kitchen, referred to as Ka Ϊing Bah, is used for performing the rite of Ka Suit Dohkha; 4. The threshold between the kitchen and the central hall (called Shah Ksew) is the place where the rite of Jingknia Muhuri is performed by the eldest among the Duhalia; 5. In the corridor connecting the portico and the central hall Sohblei Mawroh sacrifices a pig; 6. The front courtyard of Ka Ϊing Sad is used for the dance rites by the virgin maidens and the boys (there is no condition for the boys, unlike the maidens, to be bachelors). After the dance rites the Sohblei Rumnong performs a rite in which seven cocks and five hens are sacrificed. Moreover, the Syiem sacrifices goats of both sexes at this place.

Performance of Rites A brief description is presented here of the rites performed on each day, known as Pamtiah, Umni, Iewduh, Lyngka, and Pynsing.

Pamtiah On this day early in the morning just before dawn, the Duhalia starts playing the drum, Ka Bom at the Tyngkong till the rising of the sun. This beating of the drum signifies that the rite of Ka Suit Dohkha will be performed that evening. The beating of the drum signifies the driving away of all the evil spirits during the period of the ceremony of Ka Pomblang. This beating of the drum is known as Beh Ksuid. That very same morning, the bamboo mat (Shylliah) which wraps around the sacred pillar, U Rishot Blei is changed by Sohblei Mawroh and Ka Syiem Sad assists U Sohblei Mawroh in wrapping the bamboo mat round the post to cover all the articles tied around it. Ka Syiem Sad then makes preparations for the rite of Ka Suit Dohkha. The rite of Ka Suit Dohkha begins and is performed by Sohblei Rumnong in the kitchen of Ka Ϊing Sad. This rite of Ka Suit Dohkha is performed to invoke the deities, U Blei Shyllong and Ka Lei Long Syiem (goddess of the Syiem clan) for the unobstructed performance of all the rites and for the wellbeing of the Syiem and his clan, the Hima and its inhabitants. After the completion of the rite of Ka Suit Dohkha everyone then assembles at the central hall to witness the rite of Ka Suit Ka Shor performed by the Duhalia to express gratitude to the deity Biskorom and to seek his blessings. Biskorom is believed to be the deity of fire and all forms of art worshipped largely by the blacksmiths and


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the musicians. This deity belongs to the category of deities in the Khasi religion referred to as U Phan U Kyrpad which are believed to have the power to grant special or particular favours when appealed to fervently by the worshipper. The Duhalia in his prayers seeks the preservation of Ka Sad Ka Sunon (continuity of the Syiemship), the preservation of Ka Long Syiem Man Syiem (perpetuation of the Syiem-clan), the preservation of Ka Iew Ka Dwar (proliferation of trade in the markets of the Hima indicating prosperity) and the preservation of Ka It Ka Hima (stability of the Hima). He also prays for the benign presence and the blessings of the deity on all of the five days of the celebrations.

Umni On the second day of Ka Pomblang, at night three different rites are performed at Ka Ϊing Sad: (i) Ka Suit Dohkha; (ii) Ka Suit Ka Shor; and (iii) Jingknia Muhuri. The first two rites are performed in the same manner as they are performed on Pamtiah. The rite of Jingknia Muhuri is performed by the eldest Duhalia, in that part of Ka Ϊing Sad which is known as the Shah Ksew, to invoke the deities known as Ka Lei Synshar (the ruling goddess) and Biskorom. The rites are accompanied by the beating of drums and the sound of flageolets. The eldest Duhalia in his prayers calls upon Ka Lei Synshar and seeks her protection of the Hima from any invasion, and blessings to the Bakhraws for unity and solidarity.

Iewduh As on the second day the Duhalia heralds the third day of the rites by playing the drums to the beat of Ka Ksing Niam at the Tyngkong before sunrise. In the afternoon they prepare to take a procession to U Lum Iewduh Pomblang. At the hillock U Sohblei Rumnong invokes and calls upon U Blei Shyllong to bless and protect the Syiem, the people and the Hima. Here at the hillock a cock is then sacrificed and the Sohblei Rumnong looks for divine signs in the intestines of the sacrificed cock. The signs indicate that the God is pleased with the prayers and is willing to accept the oblation of a goat called U Lang Iewduh. On returning to Ka Ϊing Sad after the completion of the rite, U Sohblei Rumnong hands over all the articles used on the hillock, along with the left-over pieces of meat and internal organs from the sacrificed goat and cock, to Ka Syiem Sad. Ka Syiem Sad roasts all the internal organs of the sacrificial goat and hands them to U Sohblei Rumnong. He then performs the rite of Noh Dkhot with these roasted pieces called Dkhot iap or Dkhot-Iong performing Ka Suit

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


Ka Shor which is to seek assurance from the ancestors that they have accepted the oblations. The third day of the celebrations end with the performance of another rite known as Bujai Blang which takes place at the Tyngkong of Ka Ϊing Sad late in the evening. Bujai Blang is the offering of goats to the God for the peace and the prosperity of the Hima. The goats are offered by the Lyngdoh from the different Raid of Ka Hima Khyrim and the Basan from different villages. These goats are received by the eldest Duhalia on behalf of the Hima in the presence of U Syiem, the Lyngskor and the Bakhraw. The ritual of the Bujai Blang is the main thrust of the paper and the details of this ritual are elaborated here.

Lyngka It is the fourth consecutive day of the rites and the Duhalia heralds the day by playing the drums and the flageolets to the beat of Ka ’Sing Kynthei at Ka Shlur in the early morning. The day begins with a dance in front of U Rishot Blei in the central hall by the unmarried females of the Syiem clan accompanied by their maternal uncle, U Kongngor (the designation used for the husband of Ka Syiem Sad), the nephew of Ka Syiem Sad, Bakhraws and two elder Duhalia. This dance rite is called Ka Shad Nohkjat. The dancers through this rite plead with God to preserve and protect Ka Sad Ka Sunon (the Syiemship). After taking three rounds of U Rishot Blei they all move to the courtyard where they again dance three times going in a circle around the Duhalia who are playing music in the centre of the courtyard. In the afternoon, young maidens from all over the Hima and also other Hima, wearing ceremonial dresses and bedecked with costly gold and silver jewellery assemble in the courtyard of Ka Ϊing Sad for another dance rite. The next rite is called Ka Pomblang Khadar Sla, (khadar means twelve and sla means leaf) where U Sohblei Rumnong invokes U Blei Shyllong. He prays to God seeking blessings for the successful performance of the rite and the wellbeing of the Syiem, Ka Syiem Sad and her clan members, the Hima and its population. The rite of Ka Pomblang Khatar Sla ends with the oblation of goats (both male and female) made by the Syiem to the various deities (both male and female). These are the goats collected the previous night through the rite of Ka Bujai Blang. In this particular rite too (as was performed in the Iewduh rite) the Sohblei Rumnong along with the Nongknia (an elderly person who performs the various rites as per the Khasi religion) hand over the sacred parts of the sacrificial goats to Ka Syiem Sad who cleans and roasts the pieces of meat and hands them back to U Sohblei Rumnong for oblation.


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Pynsing This is the fifth and last day of the Ka Pomblang rites. In the afternoon the Duhalia reports to Ka Syiem Sad at Ka Ϊing Sad. She gives them a basket of cowries as payment for the services of various kinds rendered by them during the performance of rites on each day of the Ka Pomblang celebrations. This is called Ka Bai Duhim. Ka Bai Duhim was given along with prayers and blessings from Ka Syiem Sad for the wellbeing and prosperity of the Hima. The basket is carried by the Duhalia ceremonially along with the beating of drums to their camp provided during this period of celebrations. In the evening, another rite, called Ka Dung Sning, will be performed. It is in the form of oblation to U Suidnia Long Syiem (the first ancestral maternal uncle of the Syiem clan). In this rite a pig of jet black colour is sacrificed at the threshold between the kitchen and the central hall. Before sacrificing the pig, Sohblei Rumnong invokes U Suidnia Long Syiem seeking his blessings for the prosperity of the Hima and all its inhabitants. At midnight the rite of Ka Dorbar Sla is performed by U Syiem in the Tyngkong of Ka Ϊing Sad where he seeks blessings for the wellbeing and prosperity of the Syiemship, the Bakhraw and the people of the Hima so that they may continue in their efforts to ensure the perpetuation of the Hima.

Mawlong This sixth day is the day of the retreat. Early in the morning on this day all the people who have gathered from different parts of the Hima and outside, bid farewell and depart from Ka Ϊing Sad. The farewell ceremony takes place at the Tyngkong in the presence of the Syiem and the Bakhraw. A parting gift of the pieces of meat taken from the pig, which was sacrificed the previous evening as an oblation to the ancestral maternal uncle of the Syiem, is kept ready by the eldest Duhalia. All four pieces of the meat are tied on a bamboo string for each of the following elders who are called by the Duhalia to come forward and accept the gift: Lyngdoh Nongbri, Basan Nongkseh and Basan Nongumlong, Lyngdoh Mawshai and Lyngdoh Mawlieh, Lyngdoh Nongkynrih and Lyngdoh Lawai. After accepting the gifts they all depart to their respective destinations.

Ka Bujai Blang The main objective of this paper is to focus on one part of Ka Pomblang which is performed on the evening of the third day (Iewduh)

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


called Ka Bujai Blang. Ka Bujai Blang is the rite of contributing goats by the federating villages/communes to the Syiem. In the study pertaining to the recent Bujai Blang held on November 3, 2015 it was found that members of the clan of the Syiem contributed a total of seventeen goats for the sacrifice. The number of goats to be contributed by a village or a cluster of villages or the commune (Raid) is decided by the village council or the Raid council. Consequently, a single goat might be contributed jointly by all the villages under one Raid or each village might contribute a goat separately though under the name of that Raid. The goats are divided into two categories, Lang Sla and Lang Synran (Lang Sla are the goats that will be offered as sacrifice to the different deities. Lang Synran are also sacrificial goats to be offered in case any one of the Lang Sla is disfavoured for the sacrifice). Twelve Lang Sla goats are offered (seven uncastrated males and five females) while five Lang Synran goats are offered as sacrifice (four uncastrated males and one female). In addition to these, other contributions of goats are also made by different Raids. One goat each is contributed by the Basan Nongumlong and Basan Nongkseh representing all the villages under their respective Raids. These two Raids are under Hima Mylliem and not under Hima Khyrim. There was a time when these two Himas were part of Hima Shyllong. Before the bifurcation, Hima Shyllong went through a period of several political upheavals in the form of battles threatening the very existence of the Syiem and Syiem Sad over succeeding generations. But all through these periods of crisis the Basan of Raid Nongkseh and Raid Nongumlong respectively continued to extend their goodwill to whoever was installed as Syiem and the Syiem Sad. This relationship continued even after the creation of Hima Mylliem and as such the two Basan still follow the Khasi religion and participate in the rituals of the Hima Khyrim. They believe that as per Ka Niam the rites and rituals pertaining to the Hima lay with the Syiem Sad. A single goat is contributed on behalf of all the villages under Raid Nongbri. Raid Mawshai contributes nineteen goats (one each from the nineteen villages under the Raid) and Raid Mawlieh contributes nine goats (one each from the nine villages under the Raid). One goat each is contributed by Raid Lawai and Raid Nongkynrih. Besides these Raids there are the five villages known as Raid lang Shi Khlieh, which are not under any Raid and they contributed one goat each from their respective villages and these goats from these villages are called Lang Shi Khlieh. There are six Raids under Hima Khyrim but only five Raids contribute goats during Ka Pomblang. It is Raid Nongkrem which does not now contribute a goat though it used to make its contribution earlier. It is said that there was a time when Raid Nongkrem used to take part in the rite of


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Bujai Blang by contributing a goat. But during the battle at Nongkseh, as mentioned above, Raid Nongkrem joined in the besiegement and arson of Ka Ϊing Sad at Nongkseh. This created enmity in the relationship between the Syiem of Khyrim and Raid Nongkrem. Consequently, Raid Nongkrem stopped making the contribution of goats in this rite. Much later the Syiem reached a compromise with the Lyngdoh of the Raid and it was decided that from then on, Raid Nongkrem would take part in the Bujai Blang. But this was not endorsed by the people of the Raid. As a result of this though Raid Nongkrem is represented by its Lyngdoh in the celebration of Ka Pomblang, yet no sacrificial goat is presented in the rite of Bujai Blang (Interview: 2014-2016). Another interesting fact needs to be mentioned. There are twenty villages (at present organised under four Raids known as Raid Shabong, Raid Rangnah, Raid Mawshun and Raid Lyngkhat) which have stopped participating in the rite of Ka Pomblang since 1902. They did so as a mark of protest against what they referred to as the “highhanded treatment” meted out to them by the then Syiem, U Khlur Singh of Hima Khyrim who imposed an “unjustified and exorbitant” tax on them. Their predecessors hailing from four villages (Pynter, Rangnah, Mawshun and Lyngkhat–– earlier under Raid Mawlieh) during that period played a crucial role in negotiating with the British Government. They demanded separation from Hima Khyrim and appealed to the British Government to be considered as British villages. However, the British Government did not entertain their appeal and instead effected an agreement in 1902 between these villages and the Syiem through the mediation of Dewan Hajom Kissor Singh. The Dewan had argued that the people of these villages should pay all the taxes due to the Hima but the people agreed to comply only after the fulfillment of their demands. As per the term of the agreement the then twenty-five villages were to be organised into four Raids each having its own elected Sordar under the supervision of the British Government, who could try all the petty cases under his jurisdiction. All the serious and difficult cases of dispute between any of the twenty-five villages, a dispute with the Syiem, or with any outsider had to be referred to the court of the Deputy Commissioner. Another significant term was that all the twenty-five villages had to remain as part of the Hima Khyrim. It may be mentioned that Basan Mawlieh who played an active role on behalf of the twenty-five villages was absent on the day the agreement was signed as he was not pleased with the terms of agreement (Agreement of 1902). Participation in the rite of Bujai Blang started after the agreement but then a serious lapse occurred for reasons which could not be ascertained. It was narrated by the elders of Raid Shabong that sometime after the resumption of participation

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


it was noticed that on one occasion of the rite of Bujai Blang, a goat was contributed from one of the four Raids (the name could not be remembered by the respondents) with a ring piercing one of its ears. This was considered as insulting and a sacrilege (as the ear was pierced, the body of the goat was considered to be mutilated) and the goat was returned. This incident again put a stop to the practice of participation by the four Raids. The author was also informed that during those years road communication was very difficult and it took two to three days for the people from these villages to reached Smit on foot along with the goats. They had to pass through jungle and hilly terrain thus dampening their enthusiasm to participate in this rite. At present these Raids send only monetary contribution as is done by other villages within the Hima which send the goats as well. Sordars and some other elders from these four Raids however do attend all the rites on behalf of their villages thus expressing their solidarity.

Conclusion This paper through a case study reveals aspects of the Khasi polity relating to its religion, Ka Niam. Though Hima Shyllong was bifurcated into the present day Hima Khyrim and Hima Mylliem yet the Basan Nongkseh and Basan Nongumlong under Hima Mylliem attend and exercise their rights to contribute goats in ka Bujai Blang. This shows that the traditional administrative boundaries of the Hima do not hinder the belief and practices of the upholders of Ka Niam Khasi. Further the study also found an interesting incident where a number of villages under Block II (in the State of Assam) such as Jatarong, Ittatung and Raid Nongtung falling under the disputed Assam-Meghalaya border not only participated but also contributed goats in the Bujai Blang held at Smit on November 3, 2015. This practice reveals that the people and the traditional institutions of these villages, though located in another state, still express their solidarity with the Syiem of Hima Khyrim. The factors responsible for differences in the traditional administrative boundary of Hima Khyrim from the existing state boundary need to be further studied and researched so that the present inter-state boundary conflict between Meghalaya and Assam can be amicably addressed. In conclusion, the success of democracy at the grassroots level is revealed through the Bujai Blang ritual as the contribution of goats depicts the political affirmation of loyalty of various Raids and their subsidiaries to the authority of the apex traditional polity, the Hima. It is also through this ritual that the Raid authorities can publicly air their contentment or


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discontentment of the general administration, while mentioning any cases of omission or commission on part of the Syiem and his administration. This rite called Ka Bujai Blang reveals that in the polity of the Hima Khyrim, Ka Niam is the link between the broader political collective that is the Hima and the traditional administrative bodies such as the Raid wherein there are villages and their respective Dorbars.

Glossary of Local Terms Basan: The term refers to persons drawn from different villages within a Hima to assist the Syiem in running the affairs of the villages and the Hima. Bakhraw: These are the persons drawn from different villages within the Hima to assist the Syiem in running the affairs of their villages and the Hima. It is a status category. Bujai Blang: Bujai Blang is a religious sacrifice which involves the offering of goats to God for the peace and prosperity of the Hima. The goats are contributed by the Lyngdoh and Basan from the different Raids and villages within the Hima Khyrim. These goats are received by the eldest Duhalia (musician) on behalf of the Hima in the presence of the Syiem, the Lyngskor and the Bakhraw of the Hima. Dkhot iap/Dkhot iong: The different internal organs or pieces in the form of roasted meat offered as an oblation to the deities. Hima: a Khasi state which is a conglomeration of Raid and villages. Iewduh: A Khasi week day. Jingknia Muhuri: A rite performed by the eldest Duhalia during Ka Pomblang for the deity, Biskorom. Ka Lei Long Syiem: goddess of the Syiem clan. Lyngka: One of the Khasi week days. Mawlong: A Khasi week day. Nongknia: An elderly person who performs the various rites as per the Khasi religion. Pamthiah: A Khasi week day. Pynsing: One of the Khasi week days. Rynghep: Khasi week day. Raid: a commune which is a conglomeration of several villages. Syiem: the chief of the Khasi state. Syiem Sad: Ka Syiem Sad refers to a religious office occupied by a woman who is related to the Syiem through his matrilineage. U Blei Shyllong: The ruling male deity of Hima Shyllong. Umni: One of the Khasi week days.

Ka Pomblang: A Depiction of Khasi Polity


References Agreement of 1902 Between Syiem of Hima Khyrim State and 4 Raid/25 Shnong. November 28, 1902. Aitchison, C. U. 1892. A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Sanads related to India and neighbouring countries (Vol. 1.) Calcutta: Government of India Central Printing Office. Lyngdoh, Homiwell. 1970. Ka Niam Khasi. Shillong: The Shillong Printing Press. —. 1990. Ka Pomblang Nongkrem bad Ka Thang Syiem Sohra. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. —. 1937. Ki Syiem Khasi bad Syiem Shyllong. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. Lyngdoh, R. S. 1978. Investiture Ceremony of Dr Balajied Syiem, Syiem of Hima Khyrim. Shillong: Don Bosco Press. Syiem, Shortimai. 2002. Ka Jinglehniam Ka Hima Khyrim. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. —. 2003. Ka Jingiathuhkhana pateng shaphang Ka Hima Shyllong. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. Khyriemmujat, S. 2013. A Sociological Study of Ka Niam Khasi (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis). Department of Sociology. Shillong: NEHU.

Primary Sources Interview and field observations between 2014 and 2016. Persons interviewed: 1. Dr. B. Syiem, Syiem of Hima Khyrim. 2. Mei Iem Batriti Syiem, Syiem Sad, Hima Khyrim. 3. Late Phrikson Lyngdoh, Lyngdoh Raid Nongkrem. 4. Sumar Sing Sawian (Elder from Seng Khasi).


Introduction The Wahadadarship of Shella Confederacy (Note 1) is one of the existing traditional political institutions in the Khasi (Note 2) Hills (Note 3) of Meghalaya. The name Shella Confederacy exhibits only the political aspect and does not reveal the geographical characteristics of the area. The villages in the whole Confederacy appear inconsequential as Shella, the chief village, gained prominence over other villages and engulfed the names of other villages under its Confederacy. Therefore, it is not entirely possible to explain or elucidate the geographical set-up of Shella Confederacy as the number of villages within it keeps changing and it does not form one geographic unit or identity. Presently Shella Confederacy is comprised of nine villages, namely Lyngkhom, Umtlang, Nonglyngkien, Tyngnger, Dewsaw, Nongtrai, Nongwar, Mustoh and Shella. Physiographically, Lyngkhom, Tyngnger, Dewsaw and Nongtrai are located on the right bank towards the south of the Umïew river which is locally known as the “Bakra” river, while the other villages, that is, Umtlang, Nonglyngkien, Nongwar, Mustoh and Shella are located on the left bank of the Bakra river.

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


Table 5.1: The Nine Villages of Shella Confederacy Sl. No.

Name of Village



2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Nongwar Mustoh Nonglyngkien Umtlang Nongtrai Lyngkhom Tyngnger Dewsaw

Tehsil/ Community Rural Development Block Shella Bholaganj -do-do-do-doMawsynram -do-do-do-


Female Population

Male Population


East Khasi -do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-




304 202 84 42 339 126 342 92

301 194 72 28 378 126 322 82 Total

605 396 156 70 717 252 664 174 4516

Source: Census of India, 2011

Conceptual Identification Some of the key concepts in this paper are:

Traditional Political Institutions The term “traditional political institutions” as used in this study means the indigenous system of governance that has either been invented by the Khasis of Meghalaya or evolved with their way of life over the past centuries. This study lays emphasis on the institution of “Wahadadarship” which is the most unique of all the traditional political institutions of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The term “institution” as used here refers to both the rules and organisation of a governing body as employed by the Khasis themselves (Baruah, 2004: 1).

Traditional Democracy It is important to note that democracy can be classified into many different types and variants and there are also quite a number of theories and approaches for studying it. Though the various forms of democracy may bear different shades and colours, yet they all conform to one basic principle, that is, people occupy the pivotal position in matters of governance and decision-making. However, in this paper, by traditional


Chapter Five

democracy (Note 4) the author refers to Khasi democracy practised by the people for many centuries particularly in Shella. In this regard we may cite the five types of democracy, namely, Radical Democracy, Guided Democracy, Liberal Democracy, Socialist Democracy and Consociational Democracy (Pinkey, 2004: 8). Pinkey defines consociational democracy as the one based on consensus among diverse groups; the best fit in an aggregation of diverse groups autonomous from the state where the role of the state itself is reduced to a referee; there is recognition of the diverse interests and identities by bringing leaders of all groups into the governmental process. After examining the above types of democracy and observing the functioning of the traditional political institution of Shella, one may conclude that the people of Shella are practising consociational democracy in the form of Wahadadarship. This may be considered as a traditional consociational democracy or simply a traditional democracy. Theoretically, a traditional democracy is based upon the principles of effective participation, equality in voting, enlightened understanding, control of the agenda by citizens and inclusion. The Wahadadarship of Shella Confederacy is also operating on these principles. It is hypothesised that the Khasis may have led a democratic way of life for many centuries as their social system is ingrained in such principles as “ka tip briew tip blei” (literally meaning knowing man and god, and conceptually meaning living a life of respecting other fellow beings and loving God), “tip kur tip kha” (literally meaning knowing one’s kith and kin and as a concept, it means to maintain a cordial relationship with all the relatives both from the mother’s as well as the father’s side and not to indulge in incest or taboo in marriage according to the belief/count of the clan), “kamai ïa ka hok” (literally meaning to earn righteousness and as a principle it implies earning one’s living through righteous means or not to involve oneself in corrupt practices) and “ka nia ka jutang” (which literally means debates/reasoning and promise/agreement whereas figuratively, it means to take decisions through reasonable debates and to live a life according to the promises/agreements made in such debates) (Note 5). Hence, it may not be a surprise to learn that the Khasis practise democracy in their political life. As part of the Khasi tribe, the people of Shella too must have experienced and learnt democracy both as a system of governance as well as a way of life. G. G. Swell remarks that democracy with the Khasis is as old as the people themselves. He describes the dorbar (council) as the centre of democratic governance among the Khasis as it is in such a dorbar that the will of the people is expressed, a consensus is met and an ultimate decision is arrived at (Swell, 1958: 57-58).

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


Shella The term “Shella” as it stands today carries two meanings (i) it refers to a region comprising some villages located in the southernmost part of the Khasi Hills sharing an international border with Bangladesh; and (ii) it means the inhabitants of Shella. Nevertheless, the Shella Confederacy or the Hima of Shella at present refers to the political set-up/territory of the nine villages which make up the Shella Confederacy or Hima Shella. The term “Shella” has been derived from the word “shala” (Rodborne, 1980: 30) but the etymological origin of the term “shala” is not known. Literally, the word “shala” means crooked. However, this is not to say that Shella or the people of Shella are crooked in any sense. In the meantime, we cannot also deny the narration regarding the shrewdness and wittiness of the Shella people. It is told that the Shella could not settle down in the Jaintia Hills because of the broken relationship with their neighbours. It is also said that they often indulged in quarrels and disputes with them on many issues. It was told that they were sly and clever. When they migrated to the Khasi upland and settled under the Shyllong/Shillong (Note 6) Syiemship, some of their leaders held prominent places in the administration of the Hima and they always looked down on others as their inferiors (Rodborne, op. cit.: 12-13). However, the word Shala/Shella seems to have gained currency in various literatures only after the Pam Shala incident. The Pam Shala incident was in fact a raid on Shella by the Mawproh-Mawpri of Nongkrem (the Mawproh-Mawpri were the people who once stayed in a village/place called Mawproh-Mawpri near the present Laitkor locality. This village has now disappeared). According to oral narratives, the people of Shella were once under the reign of the Jaintia Syiem and later under the Syiem of the Hima Shillong before its bifurcation into the Hima Khyrim and Hima Mylliem. It is told that the Shella as part of the Khasi tribe migrated from the eastern part south of China through the present state of Manipur. They first settled down in the Jaintia Hills near the present villages of Bataw, Lama and Lakadong. From there they migrated to the Khasi upland areas and settled in a place called Pam Shala under the Hima of Shillong. Pam Shala is a place near the present Mawlai Umshing locality, Shillong. The MawprohMawpri attacked the Shella out of hatred and jealousy because they had the favour of “u Lei Shyllong” (the Shillong deity). This foray was conducted during the time when the Shella were celebrating Kali Puja (a religious festival to honour the goddess Kali) in Pam Shala. It was also told that the Mawproh-Mawpri raided the Shella during the night and without any prior notice or information as they used to do while declaring a battle/war. On that fateful night, helpless as they were, a good number of


Chapter Five

the Shella were killed by the Mawproh-Mawpri while many of them escaped. After this incident, the Shella migrated to the habitat where they are settled at present. The name Pam Shala is, therefore, associated with this incident where “pam” means to cut by a knife and “shala” means the people called Shala. Thus literally, “Pam Shala” means to cut/stab the Shala/Shella with a knife.

Confederacy Confederacy refers to a league or compact for mutual support or common action between or among members. It is an alliance of a number of small nations/nationalities who had promised to come to one another’s aid if any were attacked. The main characteristic of a confederate form of government is the placing of power in the hands of regional or state governments instead of a central government. Generally, during the rule of a confederate government, the laws and regulations it introduces must be ratified by each individual member state/constituent unit. Confederacy is a ‘term applied to a union of states which is less binding in its character than a federation. In principle, the states in a confederation would not lose their separate identity and would retain the right of secession. In practice this right might be difficult to exercise and the constituent units of a long standing confederation might appear to be little different from those of any other federal state. Thus, although the Cantons in the Swiss Confederation are designated as sovereign and enjoy considerable decision making autonomy, the powers of the federal government have grown over time and secession would not seem to be a practical possibility.’ (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics, 2004: 107)

It is probable that due to these reasons cited, the term “confederate states” was adopted by the eleven southern states that seceded from the United States of America in 1860-1861 to form an independent nation (Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia, 1983: 200). The political set-up of Shella was referred to as a confederacy by the British colonial administration. For instance the term Shella Confederacy was used by the British while signing some agreements with the Wahadadars of Shella in 1880 (Aitchison, 1892: 222). The term was also used in the accounts of Gurdon about the Khasis (2012: 75). It is not known whether the people of Shella were conscious of the system or meaning of confederacy during the initial period of their polity formation. The fact is that they devised or evolved a political system for themselves in the form of a confederation. In one sense it seems that the term “confederacy” is just an English

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


equivalent translated by the British for the term “Hima” in the context of the Shella traditional political system. On the other hand, the English equivalent of the term “Hima” in the context of the Khasi Syiemship is “kingdom”. Therefore, it may be clarified here that at least in this paper when the traditional political institution of the Shella is referred to, it means the institution of Wahadadarship, whereas, the term Shella Confederacy is just the English translation of the Shella Hima. The Hima of Shella has the characteristics of a confederacy as described above where the nine villages are the constituent units that formed the Shella Confederacy with the right to secede from it at their convenience.

Wahadadarship Wahadadarship refers to the system of chieftainship practised in Shella where a Wahadadar is a chief and the Wahadadarship is a system or institution. The etymological origin of the term Wahadadar is obscure; some writers claimed that it originated from the Shella word “duwakdar” (Chyne, 1994: 70) whereas some referred to it as a loan word derived from the Persian word “uhda-dar” (Gurdon, op. cit.: 75). The former means the enlightener (Chyne, op. cit.), that is, the one who would enlighten the people of Shella from the condition of statelessness while the latter is referred to a low-ranking village civil and revenue official of the government in the Mughal empire (Dutta, 2002: 35). Like any other traditional political institution in other parts of the Khasi Hills, Wahadadarship in Shella is also male-centric where only a male person can become a Wahadadar. However, women are also given the right to elect a Wahadadar but not the right to contest the election to elect a Wahadadar.

Objective The core objective of this paper is to examine the relevance of the traditional political institutions in the Khasi Hills with special reference to the Wahadadarship of Shella Confederacy. This paper makes a modest attempt to revisit the origin and development of the Wahadadarship in Shella Confederacy, to study its nature and role and to analytically examine its significance and relevance in the present.


Chapter Five

Contextualising Traditional Institutions in Khasi Hills The traditional Khasi polity is marked by five different types of political institutions namely, the Lyngdohship, Syiemship, Doloiship, Sirdarship and Wahadadarship. The early polity formation among the Khasis appears to have begun with the clan or kur. Among the Khasi, a clan is a group of people organised into different jaits or titles or surnames (Rani, 2014: 59). As the Khasi follow the matrilineal system, the members of a clan normally trace their lineage from the same ancestress. It is hypothesised that in the distant past, the clans might have started the polity formation among themselves out of the need for land and judicial administration as well as to perform religious rites. The powers to manage and administer the land of the clan were given to the elders of the clan, that is, to the senior maternal uncles. These are referred to as the Basans (elders/maternal uncles) of the clan. However, the responsibility to perform the religious rites for the clan as well as to administer justice among its members was also given to the uncles especially to those who have the gift of God in such matters. These are referred to as the Lyngdohs (priests) of the clan. This practice might have led to the emergence of Basanship and Lyngdohship among the Khasis. With the passage of time the population grew and mixed with other clans and jaits due to inter-marriages, immigration and other factors. The clan that first settled in the land over which it held territorial authority felt the need for a new political system to govern all the inhabitants in the land and to integrate all the villages under one common administration as the jurisdictional authority of the Basanship and Lyngdohship was limited only to a particular clan. This led to the formation of Syiemship among the Khasi. The Khasi might have emulated the formation of Syiemship from the neighbouring tribes or from the people of the plains who were in a kingdom and had a king, that is, a Raja for themselves. The political territory under a Syiemship is called the Hima (kingdom) and its chief, the Syiem. The sole purpose of forming the Syiemship was to provide collective security and political integration for all the villages under the Hima. Generally, the Syiem has authority over all the inhabitants of his Hima. The Syiem among the Khasis is only a nominal head while the real powers of governing rest with his ministers who are the Basans or Bakhraws or Myntris (ministers) of the Hima. Thus the status of the Khasi Syiem in general is not equivalent to a king or a Raja. However polity formation in the form of Syiemship seems to have been influenced by religious beliefs and thus one may conclude that the Syiems in the Khasi political set-up have a mythologically divine origin. Thus we hear of the

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


term Syiem Blei (Note 7) among the Khasi Syiems. Though the elements of social contract are unfounded in the evolution of Khasi polity, yet, the sustainability of the system showed people’s acceptance of the same. This makes the system legitimate. Even if the Khasi ruler may be a legitimate and dejure sovereign, one should not rule out the existence of de facto rulers in the land. Notwithstanding the fact that the root of polity formation among the Khasi is historically blurred and the origin of the above systems of governance obscured, yet, we do not hesitate to brand them as traditional institutions as they have been practised by the Khasis over many centuries. Some may even call them the Khasi indigenous political institutions despite the fact that historians may claim that early state formations among the Khasis could have had some external influences as well. Moreover history shows that the Khasi people are not the original inhabitants of the present Khasi land but have migrated here from the eastern part of India. Some scholars argued that the Khasis were already politically organised even before they entered and settled in their present habitat. The three Lyngdohships that are in existence among the Khasi today are the remnants of the earliest stages of polity formation that have not been converted into Syiemships or which might have come from the latter on certain grounds. The Doloiship is the traditional system of governance that has prevailed among the people in the Jaintia Hills right from the time of the Jaintia kingdom till today. The Dolois were the chiefs of the Elakas (sub-divisions/provinces) of the erstwhile Jaintia kingdom under the supervision of the Syiem of the kingdom. When the Jaintia kingdom was abolished by the British in 1835, the Dolois were treated as the subordinate officers of the British government in India. In the postindependence period the Dolois still remain as the traditional chiefs in the Elakas in the Jaintia Hills and at present there are 19 Doloiships in the Jaintia Hills. As in the case of Syiemships and Lyngdohships, the ruling clan of a particular Elaka monopolised the office of Doloiship in the Jaintia Hills (Dutta, op. cit.: 38-39). The political institution in the form of Sirdarship is counted in most cases as one of the traditional institutions of the Khasis, yet, its origin is still obscure. We do not know if Sirdarships existed or not among the Khasi prior to the advent of the British. Even though the etymology of the term “sirdar” is yet to be academically explored, it is however quite certain that a reasonable number of Sirdarships among the Khasis surfaced during British rule. In most cases Sirdarships emerged in those villages where there was a dispute between or among the Himas over their jurisdiction. To solve such a jurisdictional dispute over a village, the


Chapter Five

British made such a village independent under the rule of a new chief known as the Sirdar. Generally, the Sirdar is a democratically elected head of the Elaka and acts as the ruler of the village with the support of the executive committee comprising of the members from the village. Among all the traditional political institutions among the Khasis, Wahadadarship is the most unique. There is only one Wahadadarship in the Khasi Hills and this is practised by the War people in Shella in confederation with its 8 other neighbouring villages. At the lowest level of the Khasi political set-up is the dorbar shnong. The dorbar shnong is the council of the people at the village level headed by the headman or the Rangbah Shnong. In the evolution of the Khasi political system of governance, the dorbar shnong seems to be the most recent one. The Rangbah Shnong is an elected head of the people in the village and normally his term of office is five years. Though the office of the Rangbah Shnong is as legitimate as any traditional political institutions of the Khasi, yet, it is still to be legally empowered by the Autonomous District Councils in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. One interesting point about the Khasi traditional political institutions is that they are democratic in character. Procedurally, they may not be democratic within the parameters of being considered a democracy based on the Westminster model but substantively their decision-making mechanism is democratic. The decision-making in these institutions is done at the people’s council known as the dorbar. The dorbar is the apex body to exercise the sovereignty of the people. Decisions are taken after the proper debate and deliberation of the issues in the dorbar. Consensus rather than majoritarianism is the principle in making a final decision. So the dorbar ensures that the wise and conscientious will of the people prevails for their own good and welfare. The rulers are mere custodians of the system and executors of the orders of the dorbar. In a sense we can say that Khasi democracy is a variant of its own.

Revisiting Shella Wahadadarship and Grass Roots Governance There are two sources of information with regard to the origin of the Wahadadarship of Shella: oral narratives and historical records. According to oral tradition the Wahadadarship of Shella was created/invented by the people of Shella themselves. Thus, according to this source of information, the Shella Wahadadarship as a traditional institution may also be considered as the indigenous institution of the people of Shella. The narratives of oral tradition are now documented in

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


book form written mainly by local Khasi writers. These narratives state that the formation of the Wahadadarship revolves around the dorbar at Shyrten sometime in the year 1663. It was in this dorbar that 23 villages, namely, Shella, Mustoh, Nongwar, Nongbah, Nongtrai, Dewsaw, Tyngnger, Lyngkhom, Umtlang, Nonglyngkien, Mawrap, Rymnong, Tyrna, Nongkroh, Mynteng, Ramdait, Nongriat, Synnei, Nongshluid, Sinai-Mawshyrut, Nongsteng-Umeit, Mawphu and Thieddieng represented by male members adopted Wahadadarship as their political system (Dkhar, 2001: vii). Local writers credit one Jin Kyllut (Note 8) from Nongwar village of that time for the formation of Wahadadarship in both its concept as well as structure. As such he may be considered as the architect of the Shella Wahadadarship. Some even refer to him as the Aristotle of War-Shella. The first four Wahadadars of Shella elected in the dorbar at Shyrten at that time were U Jerkha, U Bor, U Kynshe and U Steiñ (Chyne, 1994: 7072; Dkhar, op. cit.: 49-55). It is also told that the premier villages that led the formation of the Shella Wahadadarship were Shella, Nongwar, Mustoh and Nongbah. These four villages had already formed the association among themselves known as the Ri-Saw-Seng or the SawSeng-Saw-Kuro which literally means the “union of four”. It can be argued that the Ri-Saw-Seng was itself converted into the Hima of Shella or the Hima Arphewlai Shnong with the 23 villages forming the Confederacy for themselves in 1663. Scholars and writers who trace the origin of the Shella Wahadadarship through historical records and evidence have concluded differently to the one based on oral narratives. They note that the term Wahadadar as used in the case of the Shella Confederacy is a derivative from the Persian word oh’da’dar or uhdo-dar. Contextually, Uhdo-dars were low ranking village civil and revenue officials employed by Mughal kings in the Mughal Empire. The main function of such uhdo-dars was to settle civilian disputes and collect tolls and revenues from villages under their jurisdiction. Interestingly, such uhdo-dars were found to have been appointed even by the Raja of the Jaintia kingdom in his parganas (Chattopadhyay, 1985: 82). The fact that Shella and its neighbouring villages were once under the reign of Gunga Sing (Raja of the Jaintia kingdom) indicates that the villages were either conquered by or annexed to the Mughal Empire. During the reign of Gunga Sing, uhdo-dars were in full operation in Shella and its adjoining areas. However, with the decline of the Mughal Empire and the disappearance of Gunga Sing from the political scene, the uhdo-dars were left to themselves to administer Shella and the other villages. It was during this time that Shella underwent a political vacuum, that is, a society without a state or kingdom. To fill this


Chapter Five

vacuum, the people of Shella at that time felt the need for state formation and ultimately decided that the uhdo-dars should become their rulers. It was hypothesised that the four uhdo-dars from the four premier villages, namely, Shella, Nongwar, Mustoh and Nongbah took the lead to form the Hima of Shella or the Shella Confederacy of 23 villages and secured for themselves the right to rule over the Hima with life-time tenure. The sole reason for the formation of the Shella Hima was to ensure the collective security of the 23 villages from outside powers. The 23 villages agreed to help each other in case any of them were attacked by their enemies. During that time, Shella and its adjoining villages were under constant threat from outside forces like the Hima of Khyrim, the Hima of Nongkhlaw and other enemies from the Sylhet plains. It was also agreed that the uhdo-dars should maintain their judicial and administrative powers over the Shella Hima as practised during the reign of Gunga Sing. Thus the Shella Confederacy was formed with the uhdo-dars as its rulers. During British rule, the term uhdo-dar was mispronounced as Wahadadar (Roy, 1986: 15) and became official as it entered into the vocabulary of treaties and agreements between the first Wahadadars and the British. Later the term was also used in books and other literature written both in English and Khasi. Wahadadarship is the anglicised version of Wahadadar to mean a system of chieftainship under the Wahadadar. Locally, the shortened version of Wahadadar is pronounced “Wadar”. Going by the historical approach, therefore, one can conclude that the Shella Wahadadarship as a traditional institution has evolved over time with the changing circumstances of polity formation among the people of Shella.

Village Governance and Administration in Shella It is observed that as in any other village in the Khasi Hills, the people of Shella village are also governed and administered by a village dorbar. Unlike other Khasi villages, local governance in Shella is unique where the village dorbar is composed of the representatives from the “dongs/kyntoits” (sub-villages or units) that form the Shella village. Shella as a village is composed of 9 sub-villages, namely, Sohlap, Jasir, Jamew, Disong, Duba, Nongrum, Ramsong Katonor, Nongnong and Mawryngkhong. These sub-villages are locally known as the “Kher” (Note 9). Each Kher in Shella has a local dorbar to look after its own affairs. It is important to note that local governance in Shella begins with the Khers. Among the nine villages under the Shella Confederacy, the concept of “synshar kher” is relevant only to Shella village. In the other eight villages

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


there exists the dorbar shnong with the headman, called the Sande, as its chief.

The Dorbar Shnong of Shella On top of the Khers in Shella village exists the dorbar shnong. The dorbar shnong of Shella was formed in 1920 by a resolution taken at a meeting of all the male residents of Shella (Note 10). The jurisdiction of the Shella Dorbar Shnong extends to all the nine Khers. It is to be noted that the dorbar shnong of Shella is not the dorbar which all the people must attend. Rather it functions like a house of representatives, the members of which represent the Khers. The administration of justice in Shella is carried out through the village court. The village court in Shella is as old as the dorbar shnong itself. The administration of justice in Shella is separated from the dorbar shnong in a sense that it has its own members who act as judges but who are not at all involved with the dorbar.

The Wahadadar and his Council As discussed earlier the Wahadadar is the chief of the Shella Confederacy and as a political functionary he is democratically elected by the people of the Confederacy. In his day-to-day functioning, the Wahadadar is supported by the Executive Committee and the dorbar which comprise the members elected by the people from the villages within the Confederacy.

Structure and Composition As it is today, the office of the Wahadadar is composed of 27 members excluding the Wahadadar. Out of the 27 members, 18 are the elected representatives from the 9 villages (each village sends 2 representatives) whereas 9 members are the headmen of the respective 9 villages as the exofficio members of the office of the Wahadadar. The office of the Wahadadar has two important committees, that is, the Executive Committee and the Judicial Committee or the Wahadadar Additional Subordinate Court. Both of these committees are composed of 5 members including the Wahadadar who is the Chairman of both Committees.


Chapter Five

Term of Office In the initial period of the Confederacy, a Wahadadar was elected for life. But with the coming of the British, the term kept changing from 3 to 5 years and even 8 years (Warjri, 1986: 120). In the pre-independence period there were four Wahadadars in the Shella Confederacy but after the legislation of the Autonomous District Council through the Election of the Wahadadar Act in 1955, the offices of the four Wahadadars were amalgamated into one. The term of office of the Wahadadar is also fixed for five years (the UKJADC Election of Wahadadar Act 1955, 2011: 24).

Qualifications According to the Election of Wahadadar Act 1955, the following are the necessary qualifications for candidates for the election of the Wahadadar: 1. A candidate shall be a voter who is a native of the Shella Confederacy living in any of the villages of the Confederacy; provided that such candidate shall be eligible irrespective of whether he lives or not in any of the villages of the Shella Confederacy but has landed properties of his own therein or his relations, that is, his mother or mother’s sister, mother’s daughter and brothers living in any of the villages of the Confederacy; provided further that a non-Shella Khasi voter shall be eligible to be a candidate for Wahadadarship if he has lived in any of the villages of the Shella Confederacy for a period of not less than 12 years; 2. A candidate shall be literate, that is, he is able to read and write in Khasi; 3. A candidate shall not be less than 25 years of age at the time of submission of nomination papers (UKJADC Election of Wahadadar Act 1955, op. cit.: 24). In addition to the conditions prescribed in the Election of Wahadadar Act 1955, the following qualifications are, in practice, also considered important for a man to be a candidate for the election of the Wahadadar in Shella: 1. He must be a person who can support himself financially; 2. He must not have any encumbrance;

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


3. He must be the best and the most able man of the Hima; and 4. He must be a native of Shella by residence and birth (Warjri, op. cit.: 120).

Election In the post-independence period, that is, after 1955, the election of the Wahadadar was conducted by the Executive Committee of the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council till 1965 (Note 11) and thereafter by the Executive Committee of the KHADC. The electoral role is prepared by the respective villages of the Confederacy to be compiled and published by the Executive Committee of the KHADC. The candidates intending to contest the election of Wahadadar must file their nomination papers to the officer concerned appointed by the Executive Committee. The names of the contestants will be put up at least two weeks before the election and the elections take place in one day. On the day before the elections there is a Pyrta-Shnong (village announcement) that every member of the villages must come out to vote. Then on the day of the election, there is an adong shnong (village rules of conduct) which calls upon every resident to cease work in the village. Such announcements by the villages ensure that no one moves out of the village till he has cast his vote. The village Sande or headmen, possibly 4 or 6 in number in each village, will act as returning officers. After the elections are over, the person who gets the highest number of votes becomes the Wahadadar.

Income of the Wahadadars It is said that in the pre-independence period, the office of the Wahadadars had profuse funds. That was the time when Shella was the centre of trade and commerce between the Khasi Hills and the plains of Sylhet (presently in Bangladesh). The source of income of the Wahadadars in those days came in three categories, namely, (1) Hat bam– –taxes (Note 12) levied at the market situated at Shella called Hat Pdia; (2) Payment/contribution from the villages in cawries (Note 13); and (3) Bai Kachari or court fees (Warjri, op. cit.: 121). However, in the present day, the income of the Wahadadar is confined only to the tolls/fees collected from the Shella Hat which roughly amount to 10,000–15,000 rupees per month. The annual payment from the villages of the Confederacy to the office of the Wahadadar is neither imposed nor followed anymore. The amount collected as court fees is too negligible to


Chapter Five

be considered as the villages rarely file or appeal cases to the Wahadadar Additional Subordinate Court (Note 14).

Functions and Powers As a ruler the Wahadadar does not have many functions to perform as his jurisdiction is very limited. He can only rule over the people of the Confederacy and not over land and other activities. As such he does not have much power either to legislate or administer. Moreover, he is not entitled to interfere with the internal day-to-day functioning of the villages of the Confederacy. However in whatever capacity that he may function he cannot perform his duties all by himself nor can he take any decision alone. The decision-making process is democratic and based on majority vote. Some of the functions of the Wahadadar are discussed below: 1. The main function of the Wahadadar is to look after the collective security of the villages in the Confederacy as a whole. It was also for this purpose that the Shella Confederacy was created. Although the office of the Wahadadar has the onus to look after the defence and security of the Confederacy, he has never had any armed personnel or police force to maintain law and order; 2. The Wahadadar is also responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of the market place of the Confederacy. At present the market of the Confederacy is located in Sohlap at Shella. This is a common market for the people in the Confederacy and the nearby villages. The market is open once in four days. For the purpose of cleaning the market, the Wahadadar appoints labourers on a wage basis. He also appoints a person to collect the tolls/fees from the shopkeepers and traders who come to the market but are not citizens of the Shella Hima. The money collected is used for cleaning and maintaining the market place; 3. The Wahadadar also enjoys some judicial powers in the Confederacy. As a judiciary, the court of the Wahadadar has both original and appellate jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the Wahadadar’s court is not clearly defined; but generally the disputes between or among villages in the Confederacy belong to its original jurisdiction. However, cases in the villages that are filed directly to the Wahadadar’s court without prior trial in any village court also fall within the original jurisdiction of the Wahadadar Additional Subordinate Court. Normally cases appealed or transferred from the

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


village courts of the Confederacy to the Wahadadar’s court fall under the appellate jurisdiction. The court of the Wahadadar is not composed of professional judges and advocates and thus the administration of justice is not based on any law book, rules and precedents but on logical debates and reasoning. The main purpose of the court is not to judge but to reconcile and appease based on common understanding. Therefore, it is more appropriate to refer to the Wahadadar’s court as a jury rather than a court of law.

Wahadadarship as a Traditional Political Institution: A Question of Relevance Traditional political institutions of the Khasis including the Wahadadarship have been formed out of a necessity for polity formation of the people at a certain period of time. Some of these institutions like the Syiemship and Lyngdohship have been formed revolving around the dominant clan of the time. Normally, the eldest uncle of the clan becomes the chief of the institution and passes on the office to his heir who is most often an eldest maternal nephew. Thus chieftainship in these institutions is hereditary. Other institutions like Wahadadarship, Sirdarship and Dorbar Shnong are non-hereditary elective bodies based on popular elections either directly or indirectly and as such the clans do not play any role in the nomination and election of the chief. The Shella Wahadadarship which was formed out of a necessity for the collective security of the 23 villages has successfully functioned through many centuries. It may be reiterated here that the Shella Confederacy today is no longer a confederation of twenty-three villages but only of nine villages. With the passage of time fourteen villages have withdrawn or seceded from the Shella Confederacy due to various grounds. According to one local writer it was in the year 1724 that the Shella Confederacy faced the first disintegration where eleven villages, namely, Tyrna, Nongkroh, Mynteng, Ramdait, Nongriat, Synnei, Nongshluid, Sinai-Mawshyrut, NongstengUmeit, Mawphu and Thieddieng withdrew their membership from the Confederacy. These eleven villages withdrew from the Confederacy on the contention that an election should be held for the successors of the three Wahadadars who had died, that is, Mr. Kynshe, Mr. Steiñ and Mr. Bor. This demand was strongly opposed by the other twelve villages in that the election could not be conducted as one Wahadadar, Mr. Jerkha, was still alive (Dkhar, op. cit.: vii). It seems that the tussle for power was the main reason for the disintegration of the Confederacy then, when the eleven


Chapter Five

villages wanted an election so that their candidates could get elected as Wahadadars whereas the other villages particularly, Shella, Nongwar and Mustoh were not in favour of the election and wanted to dominate the office of Wahadadarship since they considered themselves as the founders of the Confederacy. Later, eight villages out of the seceded eleven, that is, Tyrna, Nongkroh, Mynteng, Ramdait, Nongriat, Synnei, Nongshluid, Sinai-Mawshyrut became British areas under British rule in the Khasi Hills and were converted into independent Sirdarships whereas the remaining 3 villages, that is, Nongsteng-Umeit, Mawphu and Thieddieng joined the State/Hima of Sohra. In the year 1870, the Shella Confederacy again disintegrated when three more villages moved out of the Confederacy. These villages were Nongbah, Mawrap and Rymnong (Dkhar, op. cit.: viii). Nongbah village moved out as its demand for a share from the taxes collected by the Wahadadars from Hat Phali, which falls within its boundary, was opposed by the other villages particularly Shella. The other two, Mawrap and Rymnong, moved out as they wanted to wield political independence like the other nearby Sirdarships created by the British. From that time only nine villages have remained in the Shella Confederacy. It may be noted that such a disintegration of the States/Himas in the Khasi Hills is not uncommon. This was experienced by the Hima of Shillong, the Hima of Nongkhlaw and many others. Perhaps, it is due to this reason that we have so many Himas, Elakas and Lyngdohships in the Khasi Hills. In the same way as the other Himas and Elakas, the Wahadadarship in Shella too has faced the same problem of disintegration. In the present-day context, the significance of the traditional political institutions among the Khasis including that of the Shella Wahadadarship seems to have dwindled to a very great extent. With regard to the institution of Wahadarship some of the reasons that indicate its redundancy in the present times are: A. Issue of defence and security––As stated earlier the Shella Confederacy was formed on the issue of collective security for the villages within the Confederacy. At one of point in time, the Confederacy served this purpose by protecting the villages from the onslaught of their enemies either from the plains or from the other Khasi Himas. Almost all the villages that formed the Confederacy were very small in size both in terms of area and population, and they neither had a state of their own nor belonged to any Hima. As such they were vulnerable to the attacks of other Himas. The issue of collective security remained relevant to the Confederacy even

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


during British rule as the Khasi Hills were not unified under any State. The reality remains that the Khasi Hills were divided into a number of petty states and the British treated them as single, independent oligarchies. However, in the post-independence period with the formation of the Indian State, the question of the collective security of the Shella Confederacy became irrelevant as the same was catered to by the Indian State; B. Loose confederacy––The organisation of the Shella Confederacy is very loose and weak as the villages in the Confederacy can move out of the organisation on the slightest pretext. Moreover, the Shella Confederacy has not assumed the status of a State to the extent that it can afford to maintain an army and a currency of its own. The territory is very small and the population too is thin. It is also a known fact that many confederate governments in the world have collapsed and declined due to the lack of centripetal force for unity and integrity. It has been argued that the Shella Wahadadarship which was created by necessity may one day vanish due to the disappearance of that necessity (Laitflang-Warjri, 1989: 209). Like any other confederacy in the world the Shella Confederacy may also meet the same fate; C. Insignificant powers of the Wahadadar––The Wahadadar of the Shella Confederacy does not have power over his people and none with regard to land administration. This makes his office very insignificant. As the chief of the Confederacy he is only the nominal head where the power to decide rests with the members of his committee who are the representatives of the respective villages. He can neither command his ministers nor appeal to the people. He seldom uses his judicial powers as cases filed or appealed to him are rare. Furthermore, most of the villages in the Confederacy have their own village courts which settle almost all the cases under their respective jurisdictions; D. Meagre source of income––The only source of income for the office of the Wahadadar today is the collection of tolls/fees from the Shella market. This amounts to only a few thousand rupees per month. With this meagre amount of money, the Wahadadar can hardly maintain the market. What is more appalling for his source of income is that the Shella market has shrunk considerably due to the fact that in post-independent India, Shella is no longer the commercial centre it was in the past. With such a meagre income the Wahadadar finds it difficult to run his office and to meet the requirements of office infrastructure. The present office chamber


Chapter Five

and court house of the Wahadadar in Shella was built with financial assistance from the KHADC as the Wahadadar could not meet the expenses on his own (Note 15); E. Lack of Utility––From the utilitarian perspective, the office of the Wahadadar does not have much utility for the people in terms of governance and development. Though the Wahadadar has his dorbar, it however cannot legislate on any matter regarding the governance and administration of the villages as they have their own system of governance and bye-laws. Furthermore, he cannot impose his rules and regulations on them. As a traditional political institution Wahadadarship has been relegated to the grass roots level. Even at this level it does not fit in since it is not directly related with the people. The closest tier of governance to the people at the local level in Shella today, as in other parts of the Khasi Hills, is the dorbar shnong (village council). It is the dorbar shnong which plays a key role in the day-to-day administration of the village and also acts as a partner in the various developmental programmes of the state/central government. To elicit the views of the people of Shella on the relevance of Wahadadarship one hundred respondents were chosen (through the random sampling method) to answer a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire contained ten relevant questions and was personally administered to the respondents who were both male and female of the age group 18 years and above. The following table represents the questions asked and the responses received from the respondents. Table 5.2: Questionnaire and Responses 1. Do you know the meaning of the term Wahadadar? 2. Do you go to vote in elections of the Wahadadar? 3. What are the benefits you get from the office of the Wahadadar?

(a) Yes


(b) No


(c) Not much (a) Yes (b) No (c) Missed some elections (a) Material (b) Schemes (c) No Idea

22% 90% 8% 2% 0% 8% 92%

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella

4. What are the sources of income of the Wahadadar? 5. Do you still feel the need of the Wahadadar? 6. Why should the institution of the Wahadadar be preserved?

7. What are the major challenges to the office of Wahadadar today?

8. Are you satisfied with the functioning of the Wahadadar? 9. How does the Autonomous District Council affect the office of the Wahadadar? 10. How do you feel about having an acting Wahadadar?


(a) From Market


(b) From Government (c) No Idea (a) Yes (b) No

12% 23% 75% 0%

(c) Depends on majority view (a) Preserve Tradition (b) Need judicial administration (c) No idea (a) Financial Constraints (b) No Cooperation from the people (c) Corruption (a) Yes (b) No (c) Fair (a) Helpful (b) Hindrance (c) No Idea


(a) Happy (b) Not Happy (c) Indifferent

62% 15% 23% 22% 10% 68% 16% 4% 80% 10% 88% 2% 5% 82% 13%

To assess the awareness level of the people of the institution of Wahadadarship, the above question was asked related to its etymology. The responses received show that the awareness of the people about the institution is poor. The same kind of response was also received during informal interviews with the people on this very question. Only a few respondents tended to give a coloured reply as it appeared that they had been exposed to some literature on the matter. The response to the second question was very positive. The majority of the people are politically active and have participated in the elections of the Wahadadar. While trying to probe further on such active participation of the people in the elections of the Wahadadar, it was found that elections are fought more or less on the same basis as other popular elections like that of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) or the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. It was also revealed that various political parties


Chapter Five

indirectly play a crucial role in such elections. Elections are very expensive and candidates spend lakhs of rupees on campaigns and other programmes to woo the voters. Thus the maximum participation of the people in the election of the Wahadadar does not necessarily indicate the significant attachment of the people to the institution but popular politics. Coming to the question on the benefits from the Wahadadar, the majority of the respondents could not say how his office helps them. It seems the people in the Confederacy do not look to the Wahadadar for any aid as they do from their representatives to the KHADC or the Legislative Assembly counterparts. However, quite a good percentage of the respondents know about the source of income of the Wahadadar. They know that Shella market is maintained by the Wahadadar and that he collects the tolls/fees from the traders. This may be because almost all of them are associated with the market either as a buyer or a seller. Some suspect that the Wahadadar is getting financial assistance from the government while some simply do not have any idea of his sources of income. Regarding the question of whether the respondents still felt the need or not for the Wahadadar the response was positive. 25% of the respondents appeared to be neutral and left it to the majority opinion to decide. To further explore why people still feel the need for the institution of Wahadadarship, respondents were asked to specify the reasons why the institution should be preserved. The responses obtained pointed out that the institution is still considered necessary because the people want to maintain their traditions and also because the office of the Wahadadar is important for the administration of justice. The court of the Wahadadar is easily approachable by the plaintiffs and the delivery of justice is fast, simple and inexpensive. On the question related to the challenges to the office of the Wahadadar, it is surprising to note that 68% of the respondents pointed to corruption as the main challenge. 22% of the respondents showed the lack of funds as the main challenge to the institution while 10% of them levelled the non-cooperation of the people with the Wahadadar as the main challenge. While trying to examine these responses through informal interviews and discussions with the people, many could not justify how the Wahadadar is involved in corrupt practices. It seems people hold a general parlance that almost all institutions like the government are not free from corruption. Some raised a question of why candidates for the Wahadadarship election should spend a lot of money if they do not see any double returns from the post. There is no justification that people in the Confederacy do not cooperate with the Wahadadar. On the matter of the functioning and delivery of the

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


Wahadadar, 16% of the respondents found his functioning satisfactory while the majority of 80% found it fair. 4% of the respondents expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the Wahadadar functioned and delivered. While analysing these responses of the people, it may be inferred that as many of them do not have a proper understanding of the powers and functions of the Wahadadar, they have found it difficult to give clear-cut answers. Thus, the response that the function and delivery of the Wahadadar is “fair” tends to imply that they are neutral about his role. Those who responded in the affirmative seem to have an emotional inclination to defend the Wahadadar and the institution. The remainder (4%) tends to hold a critical view of the relevance of this institution. Regarding the inquiry as to how the Autonomous District Council (ADC) affects the institution of the Wahadadar, 88% of the respondents stated that the Autonomous District Council is a hindrance to the functioning of the Wahadadar. Most of them are not aware of the Acts legislated by the Council on the institution of the Wahadadar but they were simply not happy with the party politics involved in the election of the Wahadadar. 5% of them are happy with the role of the Autonomous District Council while the rest are apparently indifferent to it. On the question of having an acting Wahadadar, the majority of the respondents are not happy with such a practice as it has never been their custom to have an acting Wahadadar and such a practice demeans democratic methods and the general interest of the people. It appears from the preceding investigation that the people of Shella are very proud of their tradition particularly of the institution of Wahadadarship. They understand that the office of the Wahadadar is not of much use to them, yet, they are happy enough to retain it, at least, as a symbol of their traditional practice.

Conclusion Wahadadarship as an institution is acclaimed to be democratic because it evolved as a dejure political organisation involving the free will of the people concerned. The Wahadadar as a chief is elected through direct election based on a universal adult franchise. The election is conducted by the KHADC according to its Election of Wahadadar Act, 1955. Any inhabitant of Hima Shella of twenty-five years of age and above can contest the election of Wahadadarship. More than a procedural democracy, Wahadadarship is also substantively democratic as far as its decision-making process is concerned. The Wahadadar cannot take any decision by himself but by the wise and consensual counsel of his council


Chapter Five

comprising of representatives from the nine villages. As such the Wahadadar is only a custodian of the authority and legitimacy of the Confederacy. His main responsibility is to execute the orders and resolutions of his council and the Hima’s Dorbar. The essence of Khasi democracy lies in the dorbar because it is at the dorbar that all decisions are taken. The dorbar is the epitome of the suzerainty and majesty of the people. Decisions on issues are arrived at after democratic debate and deliberation. The dorbar not only discusses issues but also calculates the general will before taking any decision. It is believed that because of the vibrancy of such democratic practices Khasi traditional institutions have maintained resiliency despite many changes that have taken place in the world as well as in the country’s popular politics. However, it is disheartening to observe that people’s dorbars among the Khasis today have become rare occasions. In some villages it has become a one-day affair observed annually and in many Himas it has already been relegated to the pages of history. Today, the dorbars among the Khasi like the dorbar kur (clan council), dorbar raid (commune council) and dorbar hima (state council) are no longer practised but can be found only in historical books about the Khasi traditional political system. With the decline of the popular dorbar in the Khasi traditional institutions, Khasi democracy is now questionable. The existence and legitimacy of traditional institutions among the Khasi including the Wahadadarship of Shella are now at stake. It is highly questionable that traditional institutions exist sans tradition. It is appreciable that the ADCs have initiated laws to protect and preserve the traditions and traditional institutions. However one wonders how the ADCs will preserve such traditions that are slowly slipping away from peoples’ ways of life. There may be a number of reasons for the declining role of the Wahadadarship in the Shella Confederacy. However it is certain that clinging to tradition is one solid reason why the nine villages still remain intact within the Confederacy today. This shows that the people of Shella still hold on dearly to their traditions and traditional institutions. The Shella Confederacy came into existence out of the free will of the villages which served as confederate units and it is still maintained by the same will. The Wahadadar is struggling to strike a balance between the strong and powerful units and a weak and limited Confederacy. The Confederacy will continue for as long as this balance is maintained. An examination of the powers and functions of the Wahadadar indicates that he plays a minimal role in the politico-administrative life of the people in the Confederacy. His main functions are to look into the collective security of the villages/constituent units, to maintain and

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


manage the markets and to perform judicial functions. These functions of the Wahadadar are more or less irrelevant to the people of the Shella Hima today since the issue of collective security disappeared with India’s independence in 1947 and the formation of the State of Meghalaya in 1972. While the markets of Hima Shella like Hat Phali and Hat Pdia have vanished, the existing Hat Shella has shrunk both in size and importance to the extent that people refer to it only as a local market of Shella village alone and not of the Confederacy as before. Thus with the decline of the markets of the Hima, the role of the Wahadadar has also diminished. As a judicial body the court of the Wahadadar which has both the original and appellate jurisdiction does not have much to do because people do not refer their cases to the Wahadadar. The delivery mechanism of the Wahadadar judicial administration is also questionable since his court does not have qualified law personnel. Moreover, the incumbents themselves are not trained to deal with such cases. Almost all the villages under the Shella Hima have their own village judicial administration to deal with local disputes and law and order situations. All these developments have lessened the relevance and significance of the Wahadadarship of Shella. The awareness level of the people in the nine villages of the Confederacy about their own Hima and the Wahadadar is very low. Many of them are not aware of the name of their Wahadadar and do not know about his role and functions. This clearly indicates that the institution of Wahadadarship does not have much impact upon the lives of the people in the Confederacy. The Shella Wahadadarship has an obscure past; so much so that there are contradictory rationalisations over its origin. While local writers claimed that the institution was an outcome of the indigenous political thought of the people of Shella, historical researchers considered it to be the product of evolution from Mughal uhdo-darship and an adjustment of the same with the local requirement of polity formation of Shella. Even among the local writers there is a difference of opinion as to the real architect of the Wahadadarship. Some credited Jin Kyllut as its founder while others claimed that it was one teacher from Mustoh (Note 16). Though it was claimed that the Shella Wahadadarship was created with an agreement signed by all the villages that constituted it none however could produce such documents. It is said that the powers and functions of the Wahadadars are also written in such an agreement. As of today the Wahadadarship operates on an unwritten constitution. In recent times there were attempts to make the constitution and bye-laws of the Shella Wahadadarship but these could not materialise due to opposition from some individuals.


Chapter Five

In conclusion it will be sufficient to say that the true picture of the genesis of the institution of Wahadadarship is still secreted somewhere in the pages of history which may necessitate archival research and logical reasoning to reveal it to the world. As an institution it has earned its own past of pride and glory from its people and it still continues to exist today though not with the same vitality and vibrancy. Presently, it cannot be concluded with surety whether the institution will remain, change or disappear. It may remain if people can still keep to tradition while it may vanish into thin air once the people fail to cling to tradition. There must be a reason for people to keep the tradition and once that reason is lost, another reasonable thing will appear in the horizon.

Notes 1. In this study the terms “Hima” and “Confederacy” with reference to Shella Hima will be used interchangeably as the two will convey the same meaning, that is, the political set-up of Shella Wahadadarship; even though, literally, they may not be identical. The fact is that, the traditional name of the territory or political set-up of Shella under the Wahadadar is known as the Hima of Shella or Shella Hima but since the time of the British rule the term “confederacy” has been used while referring to the Shella Hima and this is followed today either by the people of Shella or the Government in its official writings about this Hima. This is because the Shella Hima has the political structure of a confederacy. 2. The term “Khasi” in this work refers to the Khasi people as one of the indigenous tribes of Meghalaya residing particularly in the Khasi Hills. As a tribe/race, “Khasi” is a generic term which includes the Khynriam or Nongphlang, Pnar or Jaintia or Synteng, Bhoi, War, Maram, Lyngngam, Nongtrai, Muliang, Amwi et al. By and large, except for the differences in dialect and dress, these tribesmen read and write in the Khasi language, practise the same traditions, follow the same matrilineal culture and are warp and woof on the same mythology. They are known by different names as per their regional inhabitation but they form one Khasi nationality both by a cultural bondage as well as a common political aspiration. In many Government writings, dating back to the British period, the term “KhasiJaintia” was used to identify the Khasi people but this work shall avoid such a term as it may sound exclusive to the other so-called sub-tribes among the Khasi people as mentioned above (cf. Snaitang, O. L., Nangno u Khasi u Wan: Ka Jingtohkit ïa ka Jinglong Kawei u Khasi, Ri Khasi Book Agency, Shillong: 2014). 3. “Hills” here refers to the hilly topography or relief feature of the land inhabited by the Khasi people of Meghalaya. The term “Hills” as a suffix to the word “Khasi” to mean Khasi land/territory in the upland areas was first used and popularised by the British to differentiate between the “hills” and the “plains”.

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. 11.


13. 14. 15. 16.


The fact is that some of the “Khasi Plains” were attached to the present Bangladesh and some to the State of Assam. The reference to the Khasi traditional system of governance as a traditional democracy can also be found in O. L. Snaitang’s paper on “Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy as a Statesman”, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), Golden Jubilee Souvenir (1952-2002), Shillong: 2003, p. 53. These phrases, ka tip briew tip blei, tip kur tip kha, kamai ïa ka hok and ka nia ka jutang are considered as some of the cardinal principles of the Khasi way of life. The original spelling of the Hima Shillong is Hima Shyllong. Among the Khasis there are three kinds of Syiems namely, Syiem blei (those of divine origin), Syiem mraw (those bought or taken captive from other nationalities mostly from the plains) and Syiem briew (those ordained or appointed as per the system of a particular Hima). This man, Jin Kyllut, was deaf. “Kyllut” is not his surname but a word which means a person who cannot hear. Hence, “a deaf man” or “Kyllut”. Kher in the Shella dialect is another Khasi equivalent of the words “kyntoit” or “dong” which in English would mean a habitation or block as one part/section of the village community. Interview with Mr. K. K. Ksanlah, former Secretary of the Shella Dorbar Shnong at his residence in Jasir, Shella on March 19, 2015. The United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council was bifurcated into two Autonomous District Councils in 1965, that is, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC). According to E. Warjri, the kinds of taxes levied by the Wahadadars in the past include, Khewa lieng––taxes levied on incoming boats that dock at Hat Pdia (the old Shella market). These boats belong to the Dkhar or plains people. These taxes are never levied on the War people. Pyrha is a tax levied only on food grains which are brought in by Dkhars. Musa pha is a tax levied on oranges. This tax again is not levied on the local traders but on the Dkhars who buy the fruits. Khrong is a tax imposed on those people who come to the market or Hat but are not residents of any of the twenty-three villages. Dan is a tax levied on miscellaneous items besides food grains and oranges bought by the Dkhar. Lastly, tax levied on out-going forest products, e.g. Cane, bamboo, etc. These are collected from Hat Bam or Hat Pdia now called Hat Shella (Warjri, op. cit.: 121). Cawries are the kind of sea shells once used as money in Persia. During the pre-independence period, each village used to pay 80 cawries to the office of the Wahadadars. Interview with G. D. Roy Ksanïing, former Wahadadar of Shella Confederacy at his residence in Jasir, Shella on the 19th March 2015. Interview with G. D. Roy Ksanïing. Interview with G. D. Roy Ksanïing.


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References Aitchison, C. U. 1892. A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads in India and Neighbouring Countries. Vol. 1. Calcutta: Government of India Central Printing Office. Baruah, A. K. 2004. Ethnic Conflict and Traditional Self-Governing Institutions: A Study of Laitumkhrah Dorbar. Shillong: NEIDS. Chattopadhyay, S. K. (ed.). 1985. Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Chyne, E. W. 1994. Na Ki Hamsaïa Ka Mynnor. Shillong: Andy Press. Dkhar, E. W. 2001. Ka Hima Shella: Ka Synshar ka Bishar Ki Dustur Ki Riti (Bynta-I). Shillong: Shandora Press. Dutta, Sujit Kumar. 2002. Functioning of Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Gurdon, P. R. T. 2012. The Khasis. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Laitflang-Warjri, Elizabeth, 1989. Polity Formation among the Wars of Meghalaya. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Shillong: NEHU. Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia. 1983. Vol. 5. New York: Lexicon Publications. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics (Indian Edition). 2004. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pinkey, Robert. 2004. Democracy in the Third World. New Delhi: Viva Books Private Limited. Rani, A. W. 2014. “Ka Kur bad ki Deiriti ka Jaitbynriew: Ka Sur-bteng bad ki Jingkylla”. In S. S. Rynjah (ed.) Ki Kur ha ka Imlang Sahlang bad ka Synshar Khadar. Shillong: Ri Khasi Book Agency. Rodborne, T. 1980. Ki Khanatang Na Ri War. Shillong: H. RodborneWarphlang Publication. Roy, Gurunath. 1986. “Ka Riti Synshar ka Hima Shella”. War Shella Socio-Cultural Organisation (WASCCO) Souvenir. Shillong. Snaitang, O. L. 2003. “Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy as a Statesman”. Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), Golden Jubilee Souvenir (1952-2002). Shillong. Snaitang, O. L. 2014. Nangno u Khasi u Wan: Ka Jingtohkit ïa ka Jinglong Kawei u Khasi. Shillong: Ri Khasi Book Agency. Warjri, E. 1986. “The Shella Wahadadarship: The Roots of Polity Formation in the War Area of East Khasi Hills District”. Proceedings of North East India History Association (Seventh Session). Shillong: Singhania Printing Press.

Revisiting the Institution of Wahadadarship of Shella


“The United Khasi-Jaintia Autonomous District Council Election of Wahadadar Act, 1955”. 2011. Acts, Rules and Regulations of the Khasi Autonomous District Council (Parts I – II). Shillong: Legislative Office of the KHADC. Swell, G. G. 1958. “Khasi Concept of Democracy”. Ka Syngkhong Jingtip. Vol. 1 No. 1.


Introduction The social formation of the pre-colonial period of North-East India has been an area of research among social sciences scholars of the region and beyond. A previous attempt to integrate this aspect of North-East India with that of other parts of India was considered a pioneering and successful effort. Since then efforts have been made by scholars individually as well as collectively to analyse various aspects of the precolonial social and state formations in the region (Surajit Sinha, 1987; A. K. Thakur, 1997; P. Gracefulness Bonney, 2012; J. B. Bhattachrjee and D. R. Syiemlieh, 2013). An interesting feature of Khasi society is its traditional polity formation, which developed to the level of a state with certain characteristics. When the British arrived in the Khasi Hills about two hundred and fifty years ago (1765) they observed that there existed several Khasi states. Among these was the Nongstoin state, Hima Nongstoin which was also one of the larger Khasi states. The Nongstoin state shares some common features, in its origin and development, with other Khasi states but at the same time it is also unique. This paper aims to bring to light the untold story of the Syiemship (office of the chief) of Nongstoin from its origins and initial development to contemporary times. Hima Nongstoin is situated in the western extremity of the then undivided Khasi Hills. Much of the land was once covered with thick jungle and scattered settlements remote from each other. The majority of its inhabitants are Khasi including the Lyngngam, with other communities such as the Garo, Hajong and Rabha represented in small numbers.

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


It has been observed that the Khasi had developed a well-organised state organisation (Bose, 1972). As in the case of other tribal people in India, the Khasi have a particular form of state organisation which evolved through centuries. British administrators used the term “state” to designate the various territorial units under the Khasi chiefs. According to B. Pakem, the term Hima is usually associated with the term state (1987: 243). Generally, the term Hima is used in a general sense, implying the territoriality under a chief (Syiem). In Khasi polity, the final shape of the state formation process took place with the foundation of a hima. The Khasi polity has evolved over a period of time from the groups or batches of clans, ki kur, staking their claims to the territory settled by them. Gradually, other clans joined the founding or original clan/clans, or the latter colonised the adjoining areas. It was during this initial phase of origin and development that the earliest political institutions of basan (elder) and lyngdoh (priest) came into existence. These members were elected by the village community from among the first or founding clan/clans. Thus the political community was clan-based with the most senior male representing the dominant founding clan/clans. They were entrusted with power and functions to administer and conduct the affairs of the clans. Gradually more and more village settlements emerged in this way, with the choice of leaders or village heads confined to the representatives of the founding or original clans, designated jaid bakhraw (Gassah, 1994: 11; Mawlong, 2004: 42). From the oral tradition gathered during the course of interviews and research it can be safely inferred that it was neither a practice nor a possibility that a person would declare himself a ruler (syiem) of any Hima. It was always the founder clans or the jaid bakhraw who established the syiemship and it was they who selected a person or clan as the Syiem.

Evolution of the Syiemship of Nongstoin Initially the village of the Syiem was known as Nongstiiñ. In the course of time the entire area came to be known as Nongstoin. However, to the natives the village is still known as Nongstiiñ. It is probably for the convenience of pronunciation that the term Nongstoin was used instead of Nongstiiñ and the term Nongstoin most likely came to be used with the coming of the British (Laitthma, 1997: 6). Oral tradition states that the Syiem of Nongstoin originally came from Simsong Durgapur, the ruler of a place beside the river popularly known as “Someswari” among the people of the plains (Simsong is the Garo name for the river Someshwari), while others suggest the place name as


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Sushang Durgapur, a Hindu kingdom in the Mymensing district (in present Bangladesh) located at the foot of the Khasi and Garo Hills. This Syiemship apparently originated from two sisters, Ka Matabai and Ka Matalah who along with their brother U Rubah, were believed to belong to the ruling family of Simsong/Sushang Durgapur who came to Nongstoin and were later selected by the people to be the Syiem (Lyngdoh: 1968: 175; Bareh: 1985: 97-98; Gurdon: 1993: 71-72; Rynjah: 1991: 26-27). Information collected from E. P. Syiem (the present Syiem of Hima Nongstoin) provides a detailed description of the origin and development of Hima Nongstoin (P. Gracefulness Bonney, 2011). This information is directly related to the establishment of Nongstiiñ (Nongstoin) village. The Syiemship of Nongstoin originated from a woman by the name of Ka ThluTit or Ka Thyllow-Tit who belonged to the ruling family of Sushang Durgapur. She had two daughters, Ka Maithlu and Ka Baithlu and a son whose name was not known. Baithlu was married to U Napmasoi who took her to a village, Tynrong Mawpat. Here Baithlu give birth to Ka Khongbai and U Monbai. Ka Khongbai got married and had eight children viz., Ka Jikhong, Ka Rinkhong, Ka Sngikhong, Ka Tiiñkhong, Ka Syakhong, Ka Tankhong, Ka Phohkhong and U Lankhong. Later Ka Tiiñkhong married U Banoh Byrsat a warrior from somewhere near Mylliem. Banoh Byrsat along with his own clan members moved from Mylliem and came to Nongrtong and settled there. But after marrying Ka Tiiñkhong, Banoh Byrsat decided to search for a new place to settle down. In those days most of the land was covered with thick jungle. Banoh Byrsat then took Tiiñkhong to a place which is described as being hilly and bounded on all sides by rivers. As Banoh Byrsat and Tiiñkhong had no children of their own, they decided to bring Ka Jikhong and U Lankhong, siblings of Ka Tiiñkhong, to settle with them. With time, more and more people came and settled in this new settlement area which came to be named after ka Tiiñ [(shnong jong ka Tiiñ) (shnong means village)] in short Nongstiiñ, since they were the first settlers. In the course of time, Lankhong showed his abilities as a capable leader, so the people selected him as u ri-iawsan (ri–– meaning to look after and iawsan––eldest), chosen from among the eldest and most capable, to run the dorbar (council) of the village. Lankhong went on to become a powerful leader and earned the title of u khatar-reng (one with twelve horns). On becoming the leader and shaping the administration of the village it appears that he assumed a supra-natural status. But Lankhong did not live long enough to lead his people and after his death his nephew U Rubah became the ri-iawsan. Nongstiiñ under Rubah emerged as the

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


foremost village in the area, gradually bringing under its control, all other villages of the neighbouring area. The community in that area had grown in size and due to its interaction with other villages it was felt that the clan loyalty of the community was no longer sufficient to maintain the position of the village and its head. Thus the need was felt for the ordination of a royal clan as the head of this newly emerging entity. As this settlement grew in importance, consequently the basan and the lyngdoh (priest) of the nearby villages who exercised authority over the different raid (communes), were willing to surrender their sovereignty in return for common protection, and decided to choose Rubah as their Syiem. Rubah’s candidature was based on his personal abilities and competence as a leader as well as the fact that he belonged to the family which tradition designates as the ruling family originally from Sushang Durgapur. These political compulsions appear to have led to the establishment of Hima Nongstoin. On the basis of oral tradition, E. P. Syiem states, that Rubah Syiem died in the early seventeen hundreds and was succeeded by his nephew U Rangnoh. Thus oral tradition and secondary sources suggest that the establishment of the Nongstoin Syiemship can be traced back to the early eighteenth century. Also current is a tradition among the Syiem clan of Hima Nongstoin that the progenitor of this Syiemship is Ka Baithlu the daughter of Ka Thlu-Tit or Ka Thyllow-Tit, (“Bai” is the name of the daughter and “Thlu” is the name of the mother). Others however suggest it was Ka Matabai who was the progenitor of the Syiemship. According to tradition among the Syiem clan of Hima Nongstoin, the name of the children also bears the first name of the mother. The word “Mata” means mother among the people of the plains and “Bai” is the name of the person. So it is possible that instead of giving the name of the mother the word “Mata” is used instead to prefix Bai. Local writers such as E. P. Syiem state that the progenitor was Ka Thlu-Tit the mother of Ka Baithlu and Ka Maithlu. Baithlu was the grandmother of Ka Tiiñkhong after whom the Syiemship of Nongstiiñ was named. It is possible that Ka Baithlu and Ka Matabai might be one and the same person, considered by most writers, to be the progenitor of the Syiemship of Nongstoin.

Pre-colonial Period: Power and Functions of the Syiem Although Syiemship was hereditary in some clans under certain restrictions, the office itself was elective. But the Syiem in Hima Nongstoin was not directly elected by the people but by a small committee composed of the traditional heads who constituted for the purpose, the


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electoral dorbar (Council) of the Hima. In Hima Nongstoin as in other Khasi Hima, there are three types of ruling bodies: one at the centre under the Syiem, then come the various Raid (communes) each under the Basan, Lyngskor and Lyngdoh and at the lowest level comes the shnong (village) under the supervision of the Rangbah Shnong, the village headman. Thus the Syiem administered the Hima through the local dorbar before the coming of the British. Equally effective in the role of the clan is the dorbar kur, the clan council, at which all the members of the clan (representing various families of a common ancestry) meet for the disposing of important affairs affecting the whole kur. Although no fixed rule is prescribed for such meetings of a clan dorbar, it can be taken for granted that such a clan dorbar meets on important occasions to guide the election of the clan’s delegates to the different councils of the hima. According to custom, the Syiem could not perform any act of importance without first consulting and obtaining the approval of the dorbar. One of the chief functions of the syiem was to act as a judge with their dorbar serving as the jury. Among the other important duties of the Syiem were the establishment of markets in the Hima, leading the militia in wars and officiating as a priest in public festivals and ceremonies. The revenues of the Syiem were mainly derived from the tolls in the markets and fines realised from the criminals convicted by the dorbar, a share of which however went to his myntri (ministers). The Syiem was of course allotted a portion of the community land (Ri Raid) for his maintenance (Gurdon, 1990: 67; also interview with E. P. Syiem, 2016). Besides magisterial powers the Syiem also had policing functions in maintaining law and order and control over prisons and jails known as hajat (The Gazetteer of Meghalaya (Extraordinary), 1925: 319). From the earliest times the Syiem in the different Khasi states would set up markets to carry on trade and commerce. From these markets customary tolls were collected by the Syiem’s officials. The Syiem of Hima Nongstoin also opened many markets all over his Hima. Market imposts were collected by the Syiem, such as ka khrong, ka dan which was an entry fee to the market, ka asir, ka musur which were tolls on the entry of commodities to the market and also ka bai nguh syiem, an acknowledgement fee. The Syiem also drew court fees both in cash and kind, which he would share with the bakhraw (elders) of the Hima. He also derived income from judicial fines. Another source of income was the Ka pynshok, a contribution or a token of gratitude given to the Syiem (The Gazetter of Meghalaya (Extraordinary), 1925: 330; The Administration of Nongstoin Syiemship Rules, 2006). The Syiem also had their own mineral deposits or quarries such as the sillimanite deposits in Sonapahar about

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


sixty kilometres from Nongstoin which belonged to the Syiem clan (Interview, 2016). U synniang u bynhei was a voluntary contribution either in cash or kind which the people donated to the Syiem for the construction of the iing-seng (the ancestral home of the Syiem), the iing-syiem (the office of the Syiem) and other such purposes and also for other ceremonial and ritual purposes. Sawei, a rent for the use of land especially for agricultural purposes was also an income for the Syiem (The Gazetteer of Meghalaya (Extraordinary), 1925: 27).

Hima Nongstoin in the Colonial Period Before the coming of the British East India Company the Mughals had trade relations with the Khasi chiefs. The accession to the Diwani of Bengal and the consolidation of the British rule in Sylhet in 1765 brought about direct contact between the East India Company and the Khasi states, through Sylhet. When power passed to the Company, this trade relation too passed to the Company. The British who came into the hills initially as traders, had within a brief span of time between 1824 and 1840, made themselves the paramount power. Initially, Hima Nongstoin, just like any another Khasi Hima, was left almost undisturbed. However, following the Khasi war of 1829 against the Company and their subjugation, treaties and engagements were entered into with the Syiems. The British administrators began to introduce changes in the traditional system of administration to suit their convenience, to consolidate their position and to bring the people under some sort of subjugation as their subjects. The people were unaware of the changes that occurred in their old customs and institutions. The different treaties and sanads signed by the British rulers with the syiems reveal the gradual erosion of the power of the Khasi Syiem. Though the British recognised the power of the Syiem, some changes were introduced in the existing system of administration. Until 1858, the relations between the British government and the Khasi states were not formally defined. States were categorised into semiindependent and dependent states. Allen mentioned five semi-independent States––Cherra, Khyrim, Nongstoin, Langrin and Nongspung (Allen, 1903: 26-27). The above-mentioned Himas did not have any formal agreements with the British. The Syiem of Hima Nongstoin like the other semi-independent states was permitted to exercise, with the aid of elders and the Sordar (village headman), Myntri, Basan, Lyngdoh, Lyngskor, sole criminal and civil jurisdiction in his respective territory over his own people in matters pertaining exclusively to them. However, following the war of 1829, the Sanads and Parwanas, which were appointment letters


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under the seal and hand of the British Government, confirmed the election or selection or appointment of any Khasi Syiem. Don Singh Syiem, the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin signed the agreement and received the sanad on 26th January, 1863. The sanad indicates the grant of recognition from the Crown to the ruler of the Hima. It was also intended to create a feeling of the Syiem’s absolute subordinate position in relation to the Crown. The sanad recognised the Syiem alone as the head of the Hima subject to the control of the Deputy Commissioner and completely ignored the recognised existence of the dorbar. The agreements and sanads were drawn up under the misconception of the rights and powers that the heads had over their respective Himas. The heads of the Khasi Himas were never individual rulers who could issue orders to the people without the sanction of their respective councils which comprised of the people themselves. However, under the British, the Syiem was placed under the control of the Deputy Commissioner. The Syiems were deprived of the powers to try cases in which their subjects were not involved. Even in cases against their own subjects they were not authorised to try murder cases, only the Deputy Commissioner of the district could try such cases (Bonney, 2012: 64-65). The role of the Syiem and the state council, the dorbar, thus underwent change with the introduction of the sanad system. Although the dorbar continued to exist in the Khasi states in the colonial period and still played a key role in the socio-political life of the people, it had lost its importance since the verdict of the dorbar was no longer final but rested with the decision of the British government in any matter pertaining to the Hima. During the Second World War, the British government wrote to the Khasi Hima to send some men to help them in the War. Accordingly, Sib Singh Syiem, the then Syiem of Hima Nongstoin sent Wickliffe Syiem. Wickliffe was also chosen as the Wing Commander in the Labour Corps under Captain Davis (Rngaid, 2010: 5). Following the Second World War events were now moving fast towards the end of British rule in India and with the visit of the Cabinet Mission to India it became increasingly clear that the British were preparing to leave. The most important issue then, was to determine the position and future of the Indian native states. Referring to the Indian states the Cabinet Mission said that with the attainment of independence by British India the relations that had existed between the states and the British Crown would no longer be possible. It was expected that the states would cooperate with the new Government in building up a new constitutional structure (Chowdhury, 1998: 354-355).

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


Hima Nongstoin at the Time of Independence Towards the end of British rule in India, in the Khasi Hills there were three political organisations, the Khasi Jaintia “Federated” States National Conference, established on 3 November 1945, under J. J. M. Nichols Roy, the Khasi Independent Political Party, established on 6 November 1945, under Rai Bahadur Dohory Ropmay and Homiwell Lyngdoh and the Khasi National Durbar established on 4 September 1923. These organisations represented the Syiem, Lyngdoh, Sordar and Wahadadar who were the traditional heads of the Khasi Hima. Sib Singh Syiem, the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin and Wickliffe Syiem, the Syiem Khynnah (Deputy Syiem) became active members of the Federation of Khasi States in 1946 and as members of the Federation they took part in all the programmes of the Federation. As members they also decided to sign the Standstill Agreement with the Indian Union along with the other Khasi Hima on the 9 August 1947 (Nongbri, 1992: 16-27). They were given an assurance by Sardar Vallabhai Patel that any relation with the Indian Union would only be on three subjects, that is, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication. With the announcement of India’s Independence on 15 August 1947 the Khasi Hima which had already signed the Standstill Agreement on 9 August 1947, became part of India. As in other parts of India, the Syiems were also expected to sign the Instrument of Merger and the Instrument of Accession. The Indian Government was, however, faced with a greater problem when it came to the signing of the Instrument of Accession in the Khasi Hills because some of the Khasi Himas had refused to sign it. This was the natural outcome of the Standstill Agreement arrived at earlier (Syiemlieh, 1989: 97). Sir Akbar Hydari, the Governor of Assam informed the Khasi Syiems that he had brought with him from Delhi the Instrument of Accession which incorporated within it the Standstill Agreement and that they should sign it. The Syiems were asked to meet him at the Governor’s residence, Shillong on 15 December 1947. They were expected to sign the Instrument of Accession individually (op. cit.: 87). The majority of the Khasi Himas signed the Instrument of Accession on 15 December 1947. However Hima Nongstoin and Hima Rambrai procrastinated and were the last to sign it (Chowdhury, 1998: 357). It may be mentioned that Wickliffe Syiem, the Deputy Syiem of Hima Nongstoin, was against the Khasi Himas signing the Instrument of Accession. As a result Wickliffe Syiem with Sibsing Singh Syiem and the Hima as a whole decided to break their relations with the Federation of Khasi States. The leaders of Hima Nongstoin refused to meet Sardar Vallabhai Patel when he came to Shillong on 2 January 1948.


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On 13 January 1948, the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin held the dorbar hima in Nongstoin. The main aim of this dorbar was to give Hima Nongstoin its independence and with the dawn of 14 January 1948, Hima Nongstoin declared its independence accepting no other power above it (Syiem, 1998: 28-32). The struggle was however brisk and finally with the tactics and persuasion of G. P. Jarman, the Dominion Agent and his men, Sib Singh Syiem was forced to sign the Instrument of Accession on 19 March 1948, while Wickliffe Syiem was touring the Hima. The above developments are brought out in the extracts of a letter which the then Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Hydari who wrote to Sardar Vallaibhai Patel on 20 March 1948 (Chowdhury, 1998: 357). Immediately after Sib Singh Syiem signed the Instrument of Accession, an order was given that Wickliffe Syiem would not be allowed to enter or to stay within his Hima as per the order of the Governor of Assam and a letter was issued to the Syiem of the Hima, Sib Singh Syiem. Wickliffe Syiem tried different ways and means to get Hima Nongstoin its independence but in vain. Wickliffe Syiem remained in Bangladesh until his death on 21 October, 1988. He settled in a place called Rajai, never to set foot in his own beloved Hima again (Rngaid, 2010: 26).

Hima Nongstoin in the Post-independent Period With the passing of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 by the British Parliament, India became independent on 15 August 1947 and the new Constitution (prepared by the Constituent Assembly) came into force on 26 January, 1950. In independent India the tribal areas of North East India were initially known as the “Assam Tribal Areas”. The Assam Tribal Areas became part of the Assam State from January 26, 1950 as given in the Constitution of India. The Constituent Assembly of India gave special powers for the administration of the tribal areas under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. With such provisions under the Sixth Schedule, the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills District Council (today it is known as the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council) came into existence in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district of Assam inhabited largely by Khasi and Jaintia tribes. This Autonomous District Council (ADC) was established on 17 June, 1952 at the Shillong headquarters of the district (Kumar, 2015: 51). The council is a body with legislative, executive and judicial powers with jurisdiction over the traditional political institutions of the tribal community functioning according to their customs and usages.

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


The Khasi Himas including Hima Nongstoin were brought within the boundary of an autonomous district known as the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District vide Sub-Paragraph (1) of Paragraph 20 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India as originally adopted on 26 November 1949 (Jyrwa, 2006: 57). Under the Sixth Schedule the Autonomous District Councils were created as new political institutions to run the administration in the tribal areas. In addition to the many powers and functions, the Autonomous District Council also has the power to legislate on the appointment or succession of chiefs or headmen to the different Khasi Himas (Chaube, 2012: 101). Since the chiefs have been recognised by the ADC, it is also competent to remove or suspend them. The Supreme Court of India has viewed the appointment and removal of the chiefs as falling within the executive powers of the United KhasiJaintia Hills District Council and the chiefs have been viewed as the officers of this Autonomous District Council. Thus this new political institution which was created after India’s independence had in fact taken the rights and functions of the traditional institutions in supervising the administration of their own people according to the traditional customs and usages of the land. This change acted as a blow to the traditional institution which had actually first started during the colonial period (Gassah, 2013: 52). As an institution under the jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), Hima Nongstoin faced legal difficulties in matters related to Syiemship succession. For instance, after the death of the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin, Hodington Syiem in 1991, the KHADC issued a Sanad to the next incumbent. The Sanad appointed Fairly Syiem as the next Syiem of the Hima though he did not belong to the legitimate/rightful womb to be elected to the office of the Syiem. This was challenged by the Myntri, Lyngdoh, Basan and the Hima as a whole. They appealed to the High Court and finally the High Court decided in favour of the functionaries of the Hima. Thus in 2009 Hima Nongstoin received a notification from the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) regarding the appointment of Phylla Singh Syiem, as the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin being the rightful claimant (Interview: 1). In Hima Nongstoin the executive Dorbar of the Hima is empowered to make rules for the dayto-day administration of the Syiemship in accordance with the prevailing customary practices and its administrative rights. However, the Syiem and his Dorbar, if necessary have to obtain permission from the authorities concerned, that is, the KHADC. For example, in the Syiemship of Nongstoin the Syiem and his dorbar have the power and the right to construct or erect a toll station or revenue station at every exit point of the


Chapter Six

Syiemship for the purpose of collecting the customary toll from the merchandise being transported by any carrier and detaining and checking for illegal merchandise by smugglers. To carry out this activity they have to obtain the permission of the KHADC if needed (The Administration of Nongstoin Syiemship Rules, 2006). In spite of the important role played by the Syiem and the dorbar in Hima Nongstoin, their position has changed. With the coming of the British and the signing of the sanad on 26 January, 1863 by Don Singh Syiem, the Syiem of Hima Nongstoin remained only as a nominal head under the control of the British Government. The same trends continued with India’s independence and with the coming of the Autonomous District Council. These chiefs are answerable to the ADC for any action and can no longer act independently from the control of this modern political institution. At present Hima Nongstoin as a traditional political institution under the Syiem still continues but with very limited powers, such as those relating to control over the lands within the Hima. The people within the Hima can go to the office of the Syiem to get their land registered. The office of the Syiem also has the right to set up markets and toll stations within the Hima. But for all these rights they have to get the approval of the KHADC, so even these few rights that they have are not absolute rights. The people of the Hima do not see the office of the Syiem as a relevant institution to look into their needs. Rather it is the office of the Deputy Commissioner that has taken an important place in the lives of the people. The people see the office of the Deputy Commissioner as more reliable for protecting their rights and privileges. The most important cause for this drawback is financial in nature. The Syiem has no control over finances and has to depend almost entirely on the Government for financial support. This causes a setback to the smooth functioning of the traditional political institution of the Khasi. The government has taken a more important place in the life of the citizen than the Syiem.

Conclusion This discussion on the genealogical and coherent account of the various traditions related to the origin of Hima Nongstoin is intended to fill the gaps in information which may be limited or even absent from standard works on the Khasi traditional political institutions. On the basis of oral tradition and secondary sources, it appears that the Nongstoin Hima was established in the early eighteenth century and the Syiemship was legitimised by a special ritual known as Ka Kñia Shad-Longsyiem. In its historical journey from a new village to the centre of power and

Syiemship in Khasi Society: The Syiemship of Nongstoin


subsequent changes during the British period and thereafter we see that the modern administration has changed the power and position of the traditional institutions of the tribal areas including that of the Hima Nongstoin.

References Books Allen, W. J. 1858. Report on the Administration of the Cossyah and Jynteah Hills Territory (Reprinted 1903). Shillong. Bareh, Hamlet. 1985. The History and Culture of the Khasi People. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Bhattachrjee, J. B., and D. R. Syiemlieh (eds.). 2013. Early States in North East India. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Bonney, P. Gracefulness. 2011. “Origin of the Syiemship of Hima Nongstoin: A Pre-Colonial Khasi State”. Proceedings of North East India History Association. 32nd Session. Agartala: Tripura University. —. 2012. The Administrative History of Hima Nongstoin in the Colonial Period. Unpublished M.Phil. dissertation. Shillong: North Eastern Hill University. Bose, N. K. 1972. India the Land and the People––Some Indian Tribes. New Delhi: National Book Trust. Chaube, S. K. 2012. Hill Politics in Northeast India. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan. Chinoy, Ely. 1967. An Introduction to Sociology. New York: Random House. Chowdhury, J. N. 1998. The Khasi Canvas. Shillong: self-publication. Gassah, L. S. 2013. Traditional Institutions of Meghalaya: A Study of Doloi and his Administration. New Delhi: Regency Publications. —. 1994. “The Traditional Khasi Polity”. Souvenir Lest We Forget (Khasi National Celebration Committee). Shillong: Seven Huts Enterprise. Gurdon, P. R. T. 1993 (reprint). The Khasis. Delhi: Low Price Publications. Jyrwa, E. 2006. Administration of Justice in the Khasi Hills. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Kumar, Nikhlesh. 2015. Traditional Khasi Political Institutions in the Indian Constitutional Framework. New Delhi: Lakshi Publishers & Distributors. Laitthma, T. 1997. Ki Syrwet ka Mynnor Shaphang ka Hima Nongstoin. Nongstoin: published by K. Lyngdoh. Lyngdoh, H. 1968. Ki Syiem Khasi bad Synteng. Shillong: published by


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George M. Lyngdoh. Mawlong, Cecile A. 2004. “Megaliths and Social Formations in KhasiJaintia Hills”. In M. Momin and C. A. Mawlong (eds.) Society and Economy in North-East India. Vol. I. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Nongbri, I. 1992. Ka Histori ka Ri Hynniew Trep. Vol. I. Shillong: Seven Huts Enterprise. Pakem, B. 1987. “State Formation in Pre-colonial Jaintia”. In Surajit Sinha (ed.) Tribal Polities and State Systems in Pre-colonial Eastern and North Eastern India. Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi and Company. Rngaid, T. 2010. U Wickliffe Syiem U Nongialam Laitluid Bym Lah Pyndem bad ki Jingrwai Ieit Ri. Shillong: Khasi Students’ Union, South West Khasi Hills. Rynjah, Tngensngi. 1991. Ka History ka Ri Khasi-Jaintia (1562-1826) Part II. Vol. III. Shillong: self-publication. Sinha, S. (ed.). 1987. Tribal Polities and State Systems in Pre-colonial Eastern and North Eastern India. Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi and Company. Syiem, E. P. 1998. U Wickliffe Syiem bad ka Hima Nongstoin. Nongstoin: published by Ispilninis Syiem (Wickliffe Syiem and Hima Nongstoin). Syiemlieh, D. R. 1989. British Administration in Meghalaya: Policy and Pattern. New Delhi: Heritage Publishers. Thakur, Amrendra Kr. 1997. “Peasantisation and State Formation in Early Arunachal Pradesh”. Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. Bangalore.

Government Reports The Administration of Nongstoin Syiemship Rules. 2006. Nongstoin: Office of the Syiem of Nongstoin. The Gazetteer of Meghalaya, (Extraordinary). 1925. Part IV, No. 17. Shillong.

Interview Interview with E. P. Syiem, Syiem of Hima Nongstoin on March 24, 2016 at 8.00 pm.


Introduction The formation of the Jaintia traditional political institutions passed through different phases in the pre-colonial period. While these institutions played an important role in self-administration they were also responsible for looking after the socio-economic welfare of the people. Prior to the evolution of the institution of kingship, the Jaintia people were under the administration and leadership of the priest, U Langdoh, who wielded power both at the village level and at the level of a group of villages, the Raid. In addition to his religious functions the Langdoh also exercised political functions. The incumbent of the office of the priest of the Raid was elected from among the priestly families of the Raid (Gassah, 2013: 9). With the passage of time, the number of duties and functions performed single-handedly by the Langdoh increased with the greater number of families and clans, a growing population and the extension of territory. As a result, it was felt necessary to bifurcate the dual functions of religious and secular affairs under the power and authority of the Langdoh. Accordingly, the office of headman, the Waheh Chnong was established specifically for political and secular functions with the village council, Ka Dorbar Chnong as the highest authority in the village (Pakem, 1986: 245). After a considerable period of time, the Jaintia people came to live a more settled life. The people began to focus on administration and living in harmony with the neighbouring villages became all the more necessary. Polity formation in the Jaintia Hills also witnessed competition between different Raids due to their varied traditions and clan relations. Therefore those Raids which shared common traditions and clan relations felt the


Chapter Seven

need to establish cohesion and harmony among themselves. This necessity drove some Raids to come together to form a federation of Raids. As a result, such Raids came together to form an Elaka: a higher, independent political unit. An Elaka in its early stage may be viewed as a state in formation as it is free from outside control. However later polity formation in the Jaintia Hills relegated the Elaka to the second tier of state formation. At a later stage the Elaka could be termed as a sub-state or autonomous state/province with a nominal sovereign, the Dolloi as its chief. An Elaka was under the charge of a political head called U Dolloi and was assisted by U Pator or a Lieutenant Governor (Pakem, 1986: 250). Thus, the office of the Dolloi came into being with the formation of the Elaka as a political unit. For all intents and purposes various Elakas were either independent republics or oligarchies depending on the nature of the Elakas since power was concentrated either in the hands of the Langdoh or the Dolloi (Pakem, 1977: 2-3).

Dolloiship in the Jaintia Hills: Twelve Too Many Jaintia Hills is often referred to as the land of the twelve Dollois, Ka Ri Ki Khadar Dolloi because it was believed that Jaintia Hills was ruled by the twelve chiefs or Khadar Dolloi. Scholars have different views on the number of Dolloiships that existed in Jaintia Hills. Pakem was of the opinion that initially there were only three Dolloiships in the Jaintia Hills. With the passage of time due to the increase in population the elders of the Raids felt there was a necessity to create more Elakas. As a result four more Elakas were created. It was during this period when the Jaintia Hills were under the seven Dollois that the people invaded and conquered the southern plains (Gassah, 1986: 100-101). This expansion of territory also led to an increase in the administrative duties and responsibilities of the Dollois. With the ever-increasing responsibilities of the Dollois in both the hills and the plains it was felt necessary to create more Elakas. In the process five new Elakas were created each under the overall supervision of a Dolloi. It appears that these twelve Dolloiships remained constant for a long time till the annexation of the British. Another view is that originally there were five Dollois. The number of Dolloiships increased to seven and before the British annexation of the Jaintia Hills in 1835 the number of Dolloiships increased to twelve (Bareh, 1967: 63). Humphrey Hadem in his suggestions and objections to the Secretary of the Delimitation Commission of India pointed out that the Jaintia king divided his whole kingdom into twelve Elakas or provinces namely: Jowai, Raliang, Shangpung, Nongjngi, Nartiang, Rymbai, Sutnga, Nongbah,

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


Nongtalang, Sapator, Maskut and Nongphyllut. Hadem was of the opinion that the Jaintia Hills were called Ka Ri Khadar Dolloi on the basis of these twelve administrative units. However, Gassah mentioned that an original province, Amwi Dolloiship which lies in between the upland of the Jaintia Hills and the War area is curiously missing from Hadem’s list of Dolloiships (1986: 101-102). Syed Murtaza Ali is also of the opinion that the Jaintia Hills consisted of twelve Dolloiships. The names of the twelve Dolloiships are: Sutnga, Nartiang, Jowai, Nongjngi, Shangpung, Raliang, Mynso, Nongtalang, Rymbai, Lakadong, Nongbareh and Narpuh. In addition to these Ali revealed that during the reign of Ram Singh I (17031708), there were three Dolloiships which existed in the plains areas of the Jaintia kingdom and these three Dolloiships were Mulagool, Charikhata, and Jaflong (Ali, 1954: 1, 29). British officials have different opinions about the number of provinces in the hilly areas of Jaintia Hills. In his report of 1853 Mills pointed out that there were twenty-three Dollois and Sirdars which meant that the entire hilly area of Jaintia Hills was divided into twenty-three provinces. He further stated that the Dollois were appointed for a period of one year but their tenure was extended for three years (Mills, 1853: 7). Allen on the other hand is of the opinion that Jaintia Hills was divided into nineteen Elakas. He pointed out that out of these nineteen Elakas fifteen were under the control of the Dollois and the remaining four were under the control of thirteen Sirdars (Allen, 1985: 65). A. E. Heath, the then Sub-Divisional Officer of Jaintia Hills, in his tour diary of the Jaintia Hills pointed out that there were nineteen Elakas under the Dollois and four under the control of the headmen or sirdars (Heath, 1882). P. R. T. Gurdon is of the opinion that there were twenty Dolloiships and three Sirdarships in the entire Jaintia Hills (Gurdon, 1981: 75). On the other hand J. B. Shadwell, in his notes on the inhabitants of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills points out that Jaintia Hills was divided into twelve separate provinces, each in the charge of an officer called a Dolloi. W. F. Trotter in his report wrote that Jaintia Hills was divided into twenty-four Elakas, of which nineteen were ruled by the Dollois and the remaining five under the headmen (1878: 15). Hunter in his Statistical Account of Assam is of the opinion that Jaintia Hills was divided into twenty-five provinces (1978: 73). C. U. Aitchison reported that after the annexation of Jaintia Hills, it was divided into twenty-three districts. Twenty were in the charge of Dollois and the remaining three were under the control of hereditary Sirdars (Lamare, 2013: 42). From reports, notes and accounts we gather that there are different opinions among officials, administrators and scholars regarding the correct


Chapter Seven

number of Dolloiships in Jaintia Hills. It has been pointed out that, in the period after Independence, the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Act, 1953, mentioned that there were 18 Dolloiships and only one Sirdarship. The same number of Dolloiships and Sirdarships was shown by the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Act, 1959. Curiously, one Patorship––Sumer Patorship––was missing from the list (Gassah, 1986: 107). According to the present list available from the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council there are 18 Dolloiships and one Sirdarship in the whole of Jaintia Hills (JHADC Act, 2015: 957). Today there are eighteen Dolloiships and one Sirdarship in the entire Jaintia Hills as recognised by the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. This paper will however focus on only one Dolloiship, namely, Raliang Dolloiship or Raliang Elaka. On the basis of recent observation and investigation of the administration of this particular Elaka, an attempt has been made to fill the gaps in earlier studies by scholars. Raliang Dolloiship is situated in the far eastern part of Meghalaya (West Jaintia Hills District) bordering the State of Assam. The people inhabiting this Dolloiship belong to the Jaintia tribe of Meghalaya and they prefer to call themselves Pnar.

Dolloi: Meaning and Definition The Dolloi is the chief of the traditional Elaka political unit, that is, a province. In carrying out his duties a Dolloi is assisted by a LieutenantGovernor called U Pator. According to Section 2 of the United KhasiJaintia Hills Autonomous District Appointment and Succession of Chiefs (Dolloi) and Headmen Act, 1959, the term Dolloi is defined as the chief of any of the Elakas. Elaka means a district or administrative unit constituted and declared as such by the Executive Committee of the Autonomous District Council. In the absence of the Dolloi, an acting Dolloi may be appointed by the Dolloi and the Dorbar Elaka to perform the functions of the Dolloi. Dorbar Elaka means a council constituted by the Autonomous District Council under any law to guide the Dolloi in running the administration of the Elaka (United Khasi-Jaintia Autonomous Act: 1959: 2-5). A Dolloi is the chief of the next higher political unit called the Ka Elaka or province which was formed by combining a group of villages or Raids. A Dolloi normally holds office for a life time. But if the Dolloi invites the hostility of the people, he may be punished, expelled or stripped of his office (Pakem, 1977: 1). The people have the right and authority to strip the Dolloi of his office if the latter shows some kind of misbehaviour

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


towards his people by imposing unduly insensitive punishments or irrational suppression which may be against the norms and customs of the society. The people may appeal to their Langdohs if the Dolloi oppresses them in any way and if the Dolloi is found guilty, he can be removed immediately (op. cit.). The highest authority therefore rests with the people. Most of the provinces are very small in area, yet they are republican in character. They elect their Dolloi for the purpose of supervising the administration and they do not allow him to behave in an autocratic manner. Unlike the chieftainships prevailing among other tribal communities of the region, the power and functions of the Dolloi are circumscribed by the inhabitants (Gassah, 2013: 10).

Method of Election and Term of Office A Dolloi is usually elected from among the adult male members of the original clan(s) or ka kmai kur. The candidate for the post of Dolloi is chosen mostly on ascriptive criteria rather than on grounds of achievements. The original clans have a special role to play in the case of Jaintia traditional polity. The original clans are regarded as such because they were the first or earliest settlers in a village or Elaka. These clans were the ones who occupied and cleared the forest and land for settlement. They became the proprietors of the Elaka and they were also entitled to permanent ownership (Gassah, 2013: 20). The original clans became the legitimate ruling clans within the area of their jurisdiction and extended their protection to newcomers who came to their Elaka for settlement. However the clans who were the late settlers were regarded as ki khian kur which literally means small clans. The rights and privileges for setting up candidates for the office of Dolloi were reserved only for the members of the original or founding clans (Pakem, 1987: 248). Ki khian kur, the small clans were not allowed to hold the office of the Dolloi, but had the right to vote in such an election. Therefore only ka kmai kur, the original clans were granted the rights and privileges to nominate the candidate(s) for the office of the Dolloi whose members could also aspire to any office of significance like that of the Dolloi or Pator. Ki khian kur, the non-original clans on the other hand could not aspire to the office of the Dolloi and would have less influence in the actual running of the administration in the Elaka. The only right which the non-original clans were granted was the right to vote in the election of the Dolloi (op. cit). In Elaka Raliang, the Dolloi was nominated by the members of the Ynru kur, the six clans namely, Jaid kur Lyngdoh, Jaid kur Dkhar, Jaid kur Biam, Jaid kur Suchiang, Jaid kur Lamare and Jaid kur Synnah. Later on, the Dolloi was


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elected by all the adult male members of the Elaka. In Sumer Patorship, the Pator was nominated by the Ynniaw Kur, the seven clans and elected by the members of the Sumer Patorship of the Elaka Raliang. Recently, some Elakas witnessed demands made by some non-original clans in the matter of granting equal rights and privileges for the nomination of candidates to the office of the Dolloi. The non-original clans of those Elakas based their argument on the modern concept of the democratisation of election to any political office irrespective of whether they belong to the original or non-original clans. The non-original clans were against the practice whereby the rights and privileges to get elected to the office of the Dolloi were held only by the members of the original clans of the Elaka. There are some incidences of some non-original clans making a claim of right to the office of the Dolloi in some Elakas but to the disappointment of these non-original clans such claims resulted in total failure (Gassah, 2013: 22-23). In the light of this, we note that Jaintia society as a whole was not ready to make any serious changes to their traditional practices by accepting such claims. The process of the appointment of the Dolloi has been by way of the dorbar (council) selecting any person from the original clan. Such a person should be an elder of that particular clan. Usually a voice vote was taken and if the elders agreed then such a person became Dolloi of that particular Elaka and was given the right to perform the religious rites and ceremonies during festivals. The Dolloi should also be from the traditional religion. After the annexation of Jaintia Hills by the British, the process of appointment of a Dolloi was through election where the different original clans of that particular Elaka would set up a candidate for the post of Dolloi. After the election of the Dolloi an approval was sent to the British. During this period, the Dolloi was controlled by the British and some of his powers and functions were curtailed. After the establishment of the Autonomous District Council through the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, the election of a Dolloi was controlled by the Autonomous District Council and he required the ADC’s approval. The United Khasi-Jaintia Autonomous District Council passed an Act in 1959– –The United Khasi-Jaintia Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chief and Headman) Act of 1959––which regulates the election and appointment of the traditional chiefs. This Act provides that any election or appointment of any traditional chief should be in accordance with this Act and also after selection that approval must be sent to the Autonomous District Council. This selection of the traditional chiefs has been practised till today in Jaintia Hills. The process of election

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


is conducted by the Autonomous District Council through the officer appointed by it (Act of 1959). In the case of Raliang Dolloiship, the Dolloi is elected by the inhabitants of the Elaka Raliang and suffrage is purely manhood suffrage. Women and children are not allowed to participate in the election of a Dolloi. All adult men who are genuine inhabitants of the Elaka Raliang have the right to vote in the election of the Dolloi. Today, campaigning and canvassing by the candidate also take place before the election. It is an accepted practice in Elaka Raliang that voters get paid for their votes. The candidates have to pay voters the amount equal to a day’s wage or more. If a candidate has the means to raise this amount then other candidates also follow suit. Therefore, money plays its role in the election and the candidate with more money is more likely to win the election. A person should fulfil the following qualifications to be eligible for election as a Dolloi of Elaka Raliang (JHADC Act, 2015: 940): 1. He should be a native and resident of the Elaka Raliang; 2. He should have reached 25 years of age; 3. He should be a member of an eligible clan for holding the office of a Dolloi; 4. He should be a person of sound mind; 5. He is not debarred from contesting elections on the grounds of any offence committed by him which renders him unfit to uphold the existing tradition and custom prevailing in the Elaka Raliang. According to tradition and the customary practices of Jaintia society, the Dolloi usually holds the office for a lifetime. Nevertheless, he may be punished, expelled or stripped of his office should he arouse the hostility of the public. Therefore, the Dolloi cannot misbehave with the people of his Elaka and he remains in office for as long as he enjoys the favour of his people (Gassah, 2013: 10).

Power and Functions A Dolloi is the administrative head of the Elaka. He exercises his functions within the jurisdiction of his Elaka. The Dollois are not autocratic rulers and have no dictatorial powers over the inhabitants of their respective Elakas. The Dollois have to rule according to the popular opinion of their respective Elakas. All actions initiated by a Dolloi have to be approved by all the citizens of the Elaka, through the general council called Ka Dorbar Elaka (Pakem, 1972: 353). Thus, power belongs not


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only to the Dollois, but is also shared by the people of the Elaka. Prior to the British annexation of the Jaintia Hills, the Jaintia kingdom as a whole was divided into two parts: the plains areas and the hill areas. The Jaintia kingdom was under the Syiem (referred to as Rajah by the British). The hill areas, that is, the northern part was looked after and supervised by the Dollois while the southern part, that is, the plains of Sylhet was under the personal rule and authority of the king. The hills portion of the Jaintia kingdom was administered by the Dollois of the different Elakas and all powers and functions were exercised by them. In performing his political and judicial functions, the Dolloi was assisted by a number of officials, U Wasan, U Pator, U Lyngdoh and U Waheh Chnong (Pakem, 1972: 353). This division was undertaken to maintain the proper and smooth running of the administration of the hills section of the Jaintia kingdom. Each of these Elakas, or provinces was and still is looked after by the Dolloi (Dutta, 1982: 17). Before the British annexation of the Jaintia Hills in 1835 and when the office of the Syiem still existed, the Dollois were considered as administrators and ministers of the hill areas of the kingdom. In those days, the Dollois served the Syiem as ministers as well as military commanders and even ambassadors to foreign courts (Bareh, 1967: 267, 279). The Dollois had certain executive, political, judicial and religious functions to perform within their respective jurisdictions. In the past, they also performed military and diplomatic functions. The Dollois executed and exercised important decisions in matters relating to the administration and welfare of the people of their respective Elakas. In running the administration of the Elaka, the Dolloi was assisted and guided by the Dorbar Elaka and an executive council consisting of the Pator, Wasan, Dan (collector), Duhalia (musician), Sangot (village crier) and others (Gassah, 2013: 27). The Pator looks after the administration of the Elaka in case of any vacancy due to the death, removal or incapacity of the Dolloi and remains in office until a new Dolloi is elected. In the absence of the Dolloi, the Pator may assume all other powers and functions of the former except religious functions. The Pator is a subordinate officer with minor magisterial powers functioning under the Dolloi. All other officials of the Elaka namely, (i) the Dan who collects the tolls and taxes from the market under the Dolloiship; (ii) the Duhalia or musician who plays the flutes, the bhuri and other kinds of drums used in religious ceremonies; (iii) the Sangot who is a village crier/announcer; and (iv) the Chutia who makes seating arrangements in the court, were generally elected by the Dorbar Elaka which was presided over by the Dolloi and in some cases they were appointed by the Dolloi himself. The Ki Wasan or elders, one

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


from every clan in the Raid, act as the representatives of their respective clans (Rymbai, 1969: 279). The Dolloi may perform his functions directly or through the Pator or with the assistance of the Ki Wasan. Although he is the chief of the Elaka, the Dolloi cannot act or decide all matters by his own will as all major decisions have to get the consent and approval of the Dorbar Elaka. The Dolloi also performed magisterial and judicial functions. While trying or deciding cases involving the people within his jurisdiction, the Dolloi acted as judge and the members of the Elaka court were a jury. An announcement was made in the evening before the day affixed for the sitting of the judicial Dorbar. Witnesses were required to appear in the Elaka’s judicial court, the proceedings were opened by a Dolloi and witnesses gave their evidence. The court would attempt to settle the dispute through compromise, ka pyniasuk, between the contending parties. At the end, the Dolloi summarised the evidence of both sides and with the approval of the Dorbar, pronounced the judgement (Pakem, 1985: 174175). In the pre-British period, a Dolloi tried all types of cases both minor and major. These cases include dacoity, stealing, robbery, rape, murder, and land-conflict amongst others. Even criminals who committed terrible crimes were put on trial by the court of the Dolloi. But most of the judicial powers and functions of the Dolloi were taken away after the British annexation of the Jaintia Hills in 1835 (Bareh, 1967: 297). Though most of the judicial powers of the Dolloi were taken away, there are still some magisterial powers which the Dolloi enjoys.

Powers and Functions under the Sixth Schedule According to the Sanad (Note 1) issued by the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) today, the Dolloi has to see to the welfare of the Elaka, such as: 1. to look after the administration of the Elaka diligently and efficiently; 2. to convene the meeting of the Dorbar Elaka at least once a year and if some kind of emergency occurs, the Dorbar Elaka may be convened more than once in a year; 3. to look after the boundary of the Elaka and to report to the Executive Committee of the JHADC if there is any boundary dispute with any neighbouring Elaka; 4. to protect and conserve the reserved forests and to promote the establishment of new reserved forests in the Elaka;


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5. to adjudicate and decide civil and criminal cases as empowered under the Rules of the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (Administration of Justice) Rules, 1953; 6. to recommend to the Executive Committee of the JHADC the establishment and bifurcation of the village(s); 7. to conduct the election to the office of Waheh Chnong (headman) and to report the same to the Executive Committee of the JHADC; 8. to supervise the administration of villages and to constitute their Dorbar Chnong; 9. to settle the boundary disputes between villages within his jurisdiction in a cordial manner and if he fails to do so to report the same to the Executive Committee of the JHADC; 10. the Dolloi shall have power to recommend the issuance of Land Holding Certificates/Patta or the registration of forest or the mutation of the name of the said documents by the Revenue Officer or Land Records and Settlement Officer of the JHADC to the land owner/land holder in accordance with the prevailing customs and practices of the Elaka; 11. to cause such area to be set aside for the growth of trees to supply building timber and firewood to the inhabitants of the Elaka and to initiate measures to protect these areas against destruction by fire or by jhumming cultivation; 12. the Dolloi shall have the right and power to cultivate the service land, rek, as remuneration for the service he renders to the Elaka, and to cultivate the Puja land for meeting the expenses connected with the religious performances according to the customs of the Elaka; 13. to apprehend/arrest any person(s) who catches or kills any aquatic life by poisoning or using explosives in any rivers or water bodies situated within the Elaka and to immediately report the matter to the Executive Committee or to the concerned authority; 14. to arrest any person(s) who illegally fells or removes any forest product without the permission of the JHADC and to immediately report the matter to the authority concerned; 15. the Dolloi shall also perform any other powers and functions as may be entrusted by the Executive Committee of the JHADC from time to time (JHADC Act, 2015: 961-962). In accordance with the above mentioned Act the Dolloi of Elaka Raliang enjoys the same powers and functions as the other Dollois of the Jaintia Hills.

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


The present Dolloi of Elaka Raliang, Mr. Chawas Lyngdoh was elected in the year 2001. The Dolloi of Elaka Raliang is assisted by three Pators of Sumer Patorship, Raliang Patorship and Sowlyngdoh Patorship. Presently, Elaka Raliang consists of six Raids and sixty villages. The Dolloi of Elaka Raliang enjoys the privilege of utilising cultivable land called Ka Rek during the tenure of his office. However, the Rek land will not be inherited by the relatives of the Dolloi but given to his successor as long as he remains in office. The Dolloi of Elaka Raliang does not receive any revenue such as levies from markets. However the Dolloi may receive a certain fee for land measurements undertaken in his presence by land holders (within his Elaka) and for recommending land holding certificates (to land holders) from the JHADC. As the head of the Elaka, the Dolloi is often looked upon as a mediator in case of any dispute, especially land disputes. His technique for settling such disputes is often by means of arbitration through compromise or pyniasuk. The Dolloi of Elaka Raliang also exercises certain religious responsibilities. For instance, in Elaka Raliang, the annual religious ceremony (coinciding with the paddy sowing season) Pastieh cannot be performed in the absence of the Dolloi. The other Raids within Elaka Raliang which perform the Pastieh also have to keep the Dolloi informed about this religious ceremony. In his relationship with the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, the Dolloi has to carry out his power and functions according to the rules laid down by the Executive Committee of the Autonomous District Council (Interview 1: 2016).

The Elaka Dorbar On certain occasions the people of the Elaka are summoned and important issues at hand are discussed and debated by them. Due to the present difficulty in organising such a vast gathering, only Pators, Wasans, heads of villages, local officials and heads of clans by and large attend the Dorbar which is called Ka Dorbar Elaka or the Dorbar of villages. Thus the Dorbar Elaka is only a representative body of village delegates and officials (Bhattacharyya, 1985: 333). Presently under the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council the Elaka headed by the Dolloi shall have a Dorbar Elaka comprising of all the adult persons of the Elaka. The Dorbar Elaka consists of the following office bearers: Chairman, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer and ten members including not less than three women members. The Dolloi shall be the chairman of the Dorbar Elaka (JHADC Act, 2015). The Jaintia system of local government is not a democratic one in the true sense of the term. The non-original


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clans, ki khian kur have fewer rights to speak on tribal matters. The actual running of the administration in the Elaka is in the hands of the Dolloi who is elected from a certain clan only by members from certain clans. The Dorbar of the Dolloi only consists of a few representatives whose decisions might not reflect the interests of the people of the Elaka. According to custom and usage, the Dolloi cannot perform any important act without obtaining the approval of his Dorbar. In reality, the Dorbar Elaka consists of a limited number of members and the Dolloi influences the members of his Dorbar. Therefore, it is not correct to say that all the acts of the Dollois must be approved by the general council, that is, the Dorbar Elaka.

Changes in the Functioning of the Dolloiship The changes that occurred in the functioning of the Dolloiship were as a result of several factors: 1. British Administration––The British annexed the Jaintia kingdom on March 15, 1835. After the annexation certain changes were brought about in the traditional administration. Some of these changes were extreme in nature and had serious effects on the civil and criminal powers of the Dollois. Before the British annexation, the Dollois enjoyed enormous powers and functions as entrusted to them by the people on the basis of customs and usages (Gassah, 2013: 44). But after the order of annexation was promulgated on February 23, 1835, the superintendence and control of magisterial and judicial powers were entrusted to the Political Agent of the Khasi Hills who also exercised judicial powers over the Jaintia Hills (Pakem, 1975: 177). Petty civil and criminal cases in distant villages were first heard and settled by the Langdoh and his dorbar. If the decision of the Langdoh was not satisfactory, the case was brought before the Dolloi or in his absence, before the Pator. If the Pator’s judgement was not satisfactory the case could then be reheard by the Dolloi on his return. If the decision of the Dolloi was not satisfactory the case was then brought before the Principal Assistant Commissioner stationed at Cherrapunjee (Allen, 1972: 72). Thus the Principal Assistant Commissioner became the highest appellate authority in the Jaintia Hills. The office of the Dolloi witnessed drastic changes after the British took over the administration of the Jaintia Hills. For some time the British Political Agent permitted the people to elect, retain and remove

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


their Dollois according to their customs and practices. However, later on the British Political Agent tried to find ways and means to put an end to the prevailing system of election conducted by the people (Gassah, 2013: 34-35). Consequently, in November 1850 the British Political Agent passed an order that the elected or appointed Dollois were to remain in office for a period of three years only after which a new general election was to take place. The former Dollois could be re-elected as long as the people chose to elect them (Allen, op. cit.: 66). After the annexation of Jaintia Hills the Elakas were still under the control of the Dollois but the method of their election had changed. The Dollois were nominated by the people of their respective Elakas and then they had to get the confirmation of the Principal Assistant Commissioner otherwise their election would not be valid. Under this new order, the Dollois were to hold office for a period of three years only. However, the people had the freedom to re-elect the same person as the Dolloi and the British authorities never rejected the nominees of the people unless they were extremely disqualified for the office (op. cit.). In due course, certain actions were further taken by the British authorities that undermined the office of the Dolloi. On many circumstances the British authorities asked a Dolloi to tender his resignation on some trivial grounds or other. The Dollois were either fined or dismissed from their offices on flimsy grounds. Though the British had retained the office of Dolloi along with that of the Pator and Waheh Chnong, they were deprived and stripped of most of their powers and functions which were also curtailed. The Dollois now became the commission agents of the British authorities (Gassah, 2013: 38-40). One of the major effects of the British administration on the traditional institutions in Jaintia Hills was on the civil and criminal powers and functions of the Dollois. In the pre-colonial period both civil and criminal powers were exercised by the Dollois and their subordinate officials. The Dolloi acted as a judge and the dorbar acted as the jury while dispensing justice (Pakem, 1985: 175). After the annexation of the Jaintia Hills both political and judicial powers in the district were held by the Political Agent. He was empowered to fine to the extent of Rs. 500 and imprison for two years as a Magistrate and with the assistance of a panchayat to imprison for five years (Mills, 1985: 8). With regard to the judicial power held by Dollois for adjudicating petty and criminal suits, a suggestion was made that in the case of the Dolloi of Raliang this power should be withdrawn from him and

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suitors should be referred directly to the Assistance Commissioner at Raliang (Showers, 1862: 219). The various changes introduced by the British in the Jaintia Hills had the same effect on the other traditional offices and institutions like the Pator and Lyngdoh. With regard to the office of the Pator a recommendation was made for its abolition. In Allen’s Report, a recommendation was made that as the first step towards reform in the administration of public affairs in the fifteen Dolloiships, the office of Pator should be abolished (1972: 166167). The implementation and execution of the various changes as recommended and initiated from time to time by the British administrators severely affected the traditional roles and functions of these traditional chiefs in the Jaintia Hills. Their authoritative role was curtailed to a great extent. Their judicial powers were gradually curtailed and they were engaged only in deciding petty civil and criminal cases on police duties (op. cit.: 69). With tremendous power vested in the hands of the British officers, these traditional chiefs were reduced to mere jurymen who were empowered to decide the least of the cases referred to them. They were entirely placed under the overall control of the British SubAssistant Commissioner stationed in the area (Ibid). It was pointed out that, whether these changes made by the British were for the better or worse, the fact remains that the British administration had definitely upset the tradition political system operating in the land. (Gassah, 2013: 40)


The Sixth Schedule and the Autonomous District Council–– These deep-rooted tribal institutions of the Jaintia Hills faced severe pressure when new governmental structures and modernisation processes were put in place in the field of constitutional administration. With the implementation of the provisions of the Sixth Schedule all the traditional authorities in the Jaintia Hills came under the authority of the Autonomous District Council (presently the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council). The immediate effect of the modern constitutional administration was that the powers and functions of these traditional institutions were curtailed by the Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India (Gassah, 2013: 52). The Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule replaced the British and Indian administrative

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


system over tribal affairs in the Jaintia Hills. But the stepping of the Autonomous District Council into the shoes of either the Jaintia Syiem or the British and Indian authorities did not bring any progress to the power position of the Dollois. Rather, the District Council drastically reduced the powers of the Dollois (Pakem, 1977: 3). The Census Report of 1961 observed that the present power of the village dorbar under the Autonomous District Council had been greatly reduced in comparison with its power under the Chiefs (Census Reports of India, 1961: 9). Similarly most of the Dollois were not willing to part with the powers they enjoyed under the British administration (Pakem, 1972: 355). The Autonomous District Council appears as a threat to their very existence as well as intimidation to the powers and functions of these traditional institutions. As a result the Autonomous District Council was never welcomed by the traditional chiefs and some even treated it with contempt (Gassah, 2013: 53). The United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council established in 1952 passed a number of Acts, Rules and Regulations from time to time and some of these Acts had a direct bearing on and tremendously affected the power and functions of the traditional Chiefs (Gassah, 2013: 54). One of the Acts passed by the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council was the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headmen) Act of 1959. This Act made provisions regarding the election and appointment of chiefs and headmen. The Act states that all appointments of chiefs shall be subject to the approval of the ADC which may confirm such appointments under terms and conditions which may be adopted from time to times by Rules (Act of 1959: 4). The Act states that the chief shall not be removed from office unless he is given an opportunity of being heard. The chief may be removed and suspended by the Executive Committee of the District Council if in its opinion: (i) he is not capable of carrying out the administration to the satisfaction of the Executive Committee due to ill-health, old age or habitual drunkenness; (ii) he violates any customary rights and practices prevailing in the Elaka concerned and duly approved by the Executive Committee; (iii) he has been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude; (iv) he is undercharged insolvent; and (v) he does not reside in the Elaka (Act of 1959: 67). The Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council was established


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in the year 1964 (after the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills district was bifurcated into several districts). The JHADC passed several Acts affecting the functioning of these traditional institutions. These Acts brought major changes in the pattern and procedure of election, and the appointment and succession of the traditional chief even in Raliang Dolloiship. The Dollois have been treated as subordinate officials of the Autonomous District Council and are accountable to it for their deeds. They must abstain from criticising the functioning of the Executive Committee of the Autonomous District Council in any form of expression or statement. They are also debarred from participating in any demonstration or resorting to any form of strike in connection with any matter pertaining to their conditions of service (Gassah, 2013: 60). Such conditions arranged by the Autonomous District Council gave rise to differences with the traditional chiefs. Therefore the tussle between the traditional chiefs and the modern political leaders in the Autonomous District Council is a continuing affair. Traditional chiefs would be suspended on trivial charges of insubordination, malpractice and even disobedience (Pakem, 1978: 236). Due to these reasons the relationship between the traditional institutions and the ADC has not been very friendly. Instead of protecting the interests of traditional institutions, the ADC seems to act as a threat to the former. The ADC appears to conduct its affairs contrary to the purpose and rationale of its establishment. With the establishment of the Autonomous District Council the powers and functions of the Dollois and those of the other traditional chiefs were drastically affected. At present the Dollois are compelled to keep themselves content with whatever powers and functions are left to them by the Autonomous District Council. The ADC having been armed with such constitutional power has placed the traditional authorities under its complete control. There have been drastic effects on the power and functions of traditional chiefs with the coming of the Autonomous District Council (Gassah, 2013: 69). A gentleman in an interview noted that the power and functions of the Dolloi have been curtailed by the Autonomous District Council. A Dolloi performs his duties according to the conditions laid down by the Executive Committee of the ADC. He is debarred from freedom of speech and expression and is also considered as a subordinate official. A Dolloi can no longer perform his functions as per customs and usages (Interview 2: 2016). The Dollois of Jaintia Hills are now under the complete control of the

Traditional Political Institutions in Jaintia Hills: Raliang Dolloiship


Autonomous District Council although they never experienced such control when they were under the Jaintia king or even during British colonial rule.

Conclusion Dolloiship is a traditional institution which has worked for the welfare of the people for centuries. With the arrival of new agents of political modernisation and the emergence of the new institutions, changes were introduced in the functioning of these traditional institutions. These changes had considerable effects on the power and functions of the traditional institutions and traditional chiefs (Pakem, 1986: 35). They created a changing role in power relations between the two sets of institutions. While traditional institutions have been operating in the traditional socio-political structure, standing for the old traditional values and satisfying various needs of a tradition-oriented society, the newlycreated constitutional institutions stand for economic, social and political development and modernisation. Such political institutions, created especially after independence, were in fact eroding the powers and functions of the traditional institutions instead of improving them (op. cit.). Therefore, the immediate effect of the Autonomous District Council over the traditional institutions was that the powers and functions of the latter were taken away and put under the overall control and supervision of the former. Under the new constitutional set-up the Dollois were pushed behind the line of leadership. Thus the coming of modern political institutions like the Autonomous District Council has impacted the functioning of the Dollois. To ensure the continuity of these traditional institutions of society a few suggestions are offered: 1. The modern political institutions established under the Sixth Schedule (the Autonomous District Council) should not control the functioning of these traditional institutions nor curtail most of their powers but rather take steps to improve their overall functioning; 2. These traditional institutions face several financial problems as they do not generate sufficient sources of revenue. The State government should provide funds to these institutions on a regular basis so that they can render their services towards the people in an efficient manner; 3. The government authorities should make laws to empower these institutions to perform their duties efficiently for the welfare of the people of their Elakas rather than laws which curtail their functioning;


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4. For the proper functioning of these traditional institutions, it is better to amend or change the system of this traditional institution. For example in the election of the Dolloi, only a male person from the original religion can be appointed as a Dolloi and also hold office for life. The khian kur (non-original clans) should be given an equal opportunity to contest the election to the office of Dolloi provided such an aspirant has the requisite qualities. The Dolloi should also be elected on grounds of achievement rather than on ascriptive criteria.

Note 1. Sanad is an appointment order issued by the JHADC to the Dollois. It is a confirmation of the latter’s appointment. It also consists of a list of the powers and functions of the Dollois.

References Aitchison, C. U. 1983. Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads, Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries. Vol. XII. Delhi: Mittal Publications. Allen, W. J. 1858 (reprint 1972). Report on the Administration of the Cossyah and Jynteah Hill Territory. Shillong. Ali, Syed Murtaza. 1954. The History of Jaintia. Dacca: A. N. M. Sulaiman. Bareh, Hamlet. 1967. The History and Culture of the Khasi People. Shillong. Bhattacharyya, D. C. 1985. “Khasi-Jaintia Indigenous Institutions: An Unseen Feature”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Census Reports of India. 1961. Vol. III, Part VI, No. 13. Dutta, P. N. 1982. Impact of the West on the Khasis and Jaintias. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications. Gassah, L. S. 2013. Traditional Political Institution of Meghalaya: A Study of the Doloi and His Administration. New Delhi: Regency Publications. —. 1986. “The concept of Ka Ri Khadar Doloi: A Critical Assessment”. North East India History Association Proceedings. 7th Session. Gurdon, P. R. T. 1981 (reprint). The Khasis. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications. Heath, E. A. 1882. Tour Diary of the Sub-Divisional Officer. Jowai. Hunter, W. W. 1978 (reprint). A Statistical Account of Assam. Vol. II. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation.

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The Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Establishment of Elaka and Village and Election, Appointment, Powers, Functions and Jurisdiction of Dolloi/Sirdar and Waheh Shnong) Act, 2015. Lamare, S. 2013. The Jaintias: Studies in Society and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Mills, A. J. M. 1985. Report on the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, 1853. Shillong: NEHU Publication. Pakem, B. 1972. “The Socio-political System of the Jaintia Tribe of Assam: An Analysis of Continuity and Change”. In K. Suresh Singh (ed.) Tribal Situation in India. Simla: IIAS. —. 1977. “The Changing Structure of the Political Institutions of Jaintia Chieftainship”. NEICSSR Journal Vol. 1, No. 1. Shillong. —. 1978. “Meghalaya: Some Aspects of Political Development”. In S. M. Dubey (ed.) North-East India: A Sociological Study. Delhi: Concept Publishing Co. —. 1985. “Administration of Justice in Jaintia Hills”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. —. 1986. “Political Development and Change in North East India”. In A. P. Sinha (ed.) Changing North-East India. Ludhiana: Gagan Publishers. Rymbai, T. 1969. “The Jaintias also called Pnars”. In S. N. Barkataki (ed.) Tribes of Assam. New Delhi: National Book Trust. “Selection from the Records of the Government of Bengal”. 1863. No. XXXIX. Part I. Papers relating to the disturbances in the Cossysah and Jynteah Hills, Calcutta. Showers to the Secretary Government of Bengal 9th June 1862. cf. L. S. Gassah. 2013. Traditional Political Institution of Meghalaya: A Study of the Doloi and His Administration. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Shadwell, J. B. 1871. Note on the Inhabitants of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Shillong: Assam Secretariat Printing Office. Trotter, W. F. 1878. Report on the Administration of Jowai for the year ending 31 March 1878. Calcutta.

Interviews 1. Interview with Shri Chawas Lyngdoh, the present Dolloi of Elaka Raliang on April 18, 2016. 2. Interview with Shri Fivestar Suiam, Advocate, at Jowai on February 29, 2016.


Introduction Urban governance may be considered to be one aspect of the broad conception of governance. It concerns itself only with the management and administration of public affairs in urban areas. The Global Campaign on Urban Governance defines it as the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, plan and manage the common affairs of the city. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action can be taken. It includes formal institutions as well as informal arrangements and the social capital of citizens. (Urban Governance Index: the Internet)

Urban governance may be associated with urbanisation, which may again be connected to industrialisation. Normally, industrialisation leads to the settlement of a large number of people in and around an industrial area which ultimately leads to the formation of towns and cities. More often than not, an industry attracts people to jobs and other avenues and thus for their settlement. An industrial area gets expanded as population grows and in many cases turns into a commercial hub and an administrative centre. The term “urban” generally refers to an area identified as a town or city whereas “urbanisation” refers to the process of becoming urban. The process of urbanisation in Meghalaya, in the form of city or town formation, dates back to the emergence of Shillong as the capital of Assam Province in 1864 (Gassah, 1984: 25). Shillong gradually grew as an important political and administrative centre with the growth in population

Traditional Institutions and Urban Governance in Meghalaya


size from one decade to another along with the political developments in the province that favoured Shillong as the headquarters for many governmental and educational institutions. With the formation of the State of Meghalaya in 1972, the process of urbanisation expanded into various districts as well as the sub-divisional headquarters of the State. Unlike most parts of the country, urbanisation in Meghalaya is not associated with industrialisation as such but with the emergence and growth of administrative centres. The pattern of urbanisation in Meghalaya has been unique in the sense that it was the rise of administrative centres that determined the emergence of urban nodes in the State (Gopalakrishnan, 2001: 59).This is clearly illustrated by the existing urban nodes in the State where all of them are either district or sub-divisional headquarters (Ibid: 59). At present there are ten residential areas in Meghalaya which are identified as urban areas with the Shillong Urban Agglomeration (Note 1) being the largest. Table 8: 1 Urban Areas of Meghalaya Sl. No. 1 2 3

Urban Area Shillong Urban Agglomeration Tura Jowai

4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Nongstoin Williamnagar Resubelpara Nongpoh Mairang Cherrapunjee Baghmara

District East Khasi Hills West Garo Hills West Jaintia Hills West Khasi Hills East Garo Hills North Garo Hills Ri Bhoi West Khasi Hills East Khasi Hills South Garo Hills

Population 354,325 58,978 25,057 23,106 18,247 17,660 13,180 11,492 10,086 8,643

These urban areas are also categorised into different classes of towns as per their population size with the Shillong Urban Agglomeration as the only class I town in the State (Note 2). Shillong which is primarily known as a hill station is the state capital of Meghalaya as well as a district headquarters of the East Khasi Hills. However, it is also recognised as one of the cities in India in which as per its population size of 354,325 it is categorised as a Class I city in the country (Note 3). Shillong city as an urban area is commonly known as the Shillong Urban Agglomeration which is composed of the Shillong Municipality covering an area of about 10 square kilometres (Shillong City Disaster Management Plan), the Shillong Cantonment casing which is an area of about 491 acres (Shillong


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Cantonment Board Profile) and five census towns of Mawlai, Nongthymmai, Pynthorumkhrah, Madanrting, and Nongmynsong (Note 4). According to the 2011 Census of India, the urban population of Meghalaya stands at 595,450 out of which 354,325 is concentrated in the Shillong Urban Agglomeration alone. The decadal growth rate of urban population in Meghalaya stands at 31.3 per cent as against the overall decadal population growth rate of the State of 27.82 per cent.

Local Governance in Meghalaya Urban governance in Meghalaya which can be understood in the broad context of local government in the country is part and parcel of the working of the Indian Federation. As the term suggests, local government may be defined as an institution that is confined to a particular locality below state government. Generally, it functions at the basic level of the community and may be considered as the closest tier of government to the people. Local government in India exists on two levels: (i) local government in the rural areas; and (ii) local government operating in the urban areas. In the rural areas of India, local government is generally in the form of Panchayati Raj institutions and as indigenous/traditional institutions among the tribal people especially in the North-Eastern region of the country. In urban areas of India, local government takes the form of a municipality either as a corporation or a board or any other form depending upon the nature of the city or town. Local government operating in rural areas of India is by and large developed or evolved by the Indian people and has been in existence over many centuries whereas local government in urban areas of India in the form of a municipality is mainly the legacy of British rule. Local government in the rural areas of Meghalaya particularly in the Khasi Hills is in the form of traditional institutions like the Syiemship, Lyngdohship, Sirdarship and Wahadadarship. Somewhat similar to the Panchayati Raj bodies, these institutions are organised in hierarchical order with the Dorbar Shnong (Note 5), the village council at the lowest stratum, the Raid (Note 6) in the middle and the Hima (Note 7) at the apex. Urban government in Meghalaya particularly in Shillong takes the form of a municipality, a cantonment board and the traditional political institutions in the form of the dorbar shnongs. While the municipality is governed by the Meghalaya Municipal Act 1973, the traditional institutions function as per the age-old customary practices which are yet to be legally empowered by the government (Note 8). However, it may be pointed out that a large part of Shillong city also falls within the

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jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC). In fact, as per the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the Indian Constitution upon which the Autonomous District Council (ADC) is based, town administration is one of its subjects for legislation and management (Note 9). Although to date we have not seen any active intervention of the ADCs of Meghalaya in town administration, such provisions of the Sixth Schedule have the potential to get activated. Therefore, as far as local governance in Shillong is concerned, there is the existence of both the traditional institutions as well as the modern institutions in the form of the municipality and other agencies of the State Government. These two bodies of local government seem to exist side by side in Shillong yet their coexistence is not ensured as the two seem to run parallel and even opposed to each other.

A Brief History of the Elective Civic Body in Shillong Looking back at the history of Municipal government in North-East India, prior to the year 1883, elections to the Municipal bodies were absent. Perhaps, it was the Municipal Act of 1876 which provided for the introduction of the elective system to the Municipal Government in Assam for the first time. This was supported by the recommendation of Lord Rippon in 1882, the then Commissioner of Assam and also by the acceptance of this recommendation by the then Provincial Government which informed the Municipal Boards to elect their Commissioners with the previous permission of the government. Taking advantage of this recommendation the Municipal Board of Sylhet applied to the Government for permission to introduce the elective system. The Chief Commissioner directed the Sylhet Municipal Board to elect its Commissioner. Thus Sylhet was the first Municipal Board to introduce the elective system in Assam (Choudhury, 1992-93: 66). But in the initial period, the elective system introduced in the Assam Municipal Government faced certain problems with the later Commissioners particularly during William Ward’s tenure when he rejected the idea of the election of members of the Board. He was reluctant to go ahead with the elective system in the Municipal bodies for the reason that the Assamese at that time were educationally backward and hence not able to make reasonable use of their franchise. Thus he believed that the best members of the Board would not come through elections. Despite these hiccups, the electoral process of the Assam Municipal Government went on with the active participation of the people.


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The people of Assam went to the extent of saying that “William Ward was not sufficiently qualified to understand the value of the elective system” (Ramachandran, 1996: 66). From 1884 the elective system in the Municipal bodies spread to other parts of Assam. By 1918-19, the elective system had been introduced in all the Municipal Boards of Assam except for Shillong. The exception of Shillong Municipal Board in opting for the elective system at that time was based on the reason that its demographic composition was so heterogeneous that one set of people could hardly accept as their representative a member of another. The inhabitants of Shillong at that time were Khasis, Europeans, Civil Officers, Bengalis, shop-keepers, Welsh Missionaries, Sylhet clerks and a good number of Assamese. The then Commissioner of Assam was of the opinion that such a composition of inhabitants would be a great hindrance to holding elections to the Shillong Municipal Board. However, in 1905 the Government decided to introduce the informal election of a certain number of members on the Shillong Municipal Board whose election would be subject to its approval. But it was in 1920 that the formal elective system was introduced in the Shillong Municipal Board (Rao, 1973: 229).

Election to the Shillong Municipal Board: A Contentious Issue The 74th Amendment Act of 1992 made it mandatory that all the seats in the Municipality shall be filled by direct elections. The territorial constituencies in a Municipal area for the purpose of elections shall be divided into Wards. Each seat shall represent a Ward in the Municipality. In addition to the seats filled by direct elections, some seats may be filled by the nomination of persons, having special knowledge or experience in Municipal administration. For this purpose, the state law may specify the conditions and procedure for the nomination of such persons. But the persons so nominated will not have a right to vote in the meetings of the Municipality. However the representatives to the Parliament and the legislative assembly who represent constituencies which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal area or who are the registered voters within the Municipal area concerned will be the voting members of the Municipality. The Meghalaya Municipal Act, Chapter III paragraph 10 provides that, there shall be established for each Municipality a body of Commissioners designated as the Municipal Board having authority over the Municipality. Such a Board shall be a body corporate by the name of the Municipal Board having perpetual succession and a common seal, and by that, name shall sue and be sued. (Meghalaya Municipal Act, 1973)

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While examining this provision of the Act, one can find that the nomenclature of the Shillong Municipal Board with its sign board featuring the words “The Shillong Municipal Board” in front of its office where it stands at present is a misnomer because there can be no Municipal Board without a body of elected Ward Commissioners. For the last four consecutive decades till today, the election of Ward Commissioners to the Shillong Municipality have not been conducted. The long-pending problem of elections with regard to the Shillong Municipality has been discussed time and again from the time that its elections came to a halt, yet its solution is still to see the light of day. Way back in 1972, this issue was raised in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly where Winstone Syiemiong put these questions to the then Minister incharge of Municipal Administration, Sandford K. Marak. The questions read as Will the Minister in-charge of Municipal Administration be pleased to state; i. When the last Municipal Board Election of Shillong was held? ii. Whether a fresh election was due? iii. If so, what were the reasons for this delay? iv. Whether there could be any chance of election being held that year (1972)? The Minister in-charge replied that the last elections to the Shillong Municipal Board were held in 1966 and that the fresh election was due in the year 1971. Regarding the delay in the elections, he said that the elections were not held because it was considered that the existing 12 Wards delimited in 1931, when the population of the Shillong Municipal area was only 24,300, were out of date for the present population of 87,659 of that year. The Shillong Municipal Board submitted a representation to the Government for re-delimitation of the Wards having in view the then increase of the population. The Government was then examining the proposal for increasing the number of Wards and redelimiting them accordingly. It was also expected that fresh elections would be conducted as soon as such a re-delimitation of the Wards and revision of the electoral rolls were completed. It was quite unfortunate to note that the above discussion and attempts made by the then Government were to no avail in conducting the elections to the Shillong Municipal Board. The elections to the Shillong Municipality have not been conducted to the present day mainly because of resistance from the local headmen under the banner of the Synjuk ki


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Rangbah Shnong (the SRS is a traditional body composed of headmen from different parts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills), the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) and other local organisations including the banned Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) (an insurgent group in Meghalaya which was proscribed by the Government on 16 November 2000) and the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP). These organisations are of the view that if municipal elections in Shillong are conducted then 50% of the Ward Commissioners to be elected will be non-tribal because as far as the electoral strength of the Board is concerned, 50% of the voters are non-tribals. In such a case, the local people fear that they are being converted into a minority on their own soil. They are also afraid that the legislation and administration of the Municipality would go in favour of the non-tribal and thus their very existence would be affected. In September 2008, the banned HNLC opposed the Municipal elections in Shillong, which have been pending for the past 41 years. The banned outfit argued that with the traditional institutions like the Rangbah Shnong (headmen) already existing in Shillong, there was no question of having another authority. The outfit also stated that the recent decision of the State government to hold the Municipal elections in the city with the representation of the local headmen was a mere political game. Following a petition filed by the Non-Tribal Youth Union (NTYU), the Supreme Court directed the State Government to hold the Municipal elections. The State government issued notifications for holding elections in November 2000 but no individual filed his/her nomination except for one person, a Shillong-based businessman, Ananta Dey. However he was shot dead by suspected HNLC militants. Other NGOs in the State have also opposed Municipal elections expressing the fear that once the Ward Commissioners are elected to the Municipal Board, then, the powers of the local headmen will be eroded. The HNLC also said that the attempt of the central government to implement the urban mission in Shillong through the Municipal body was a political formula aimed at brainwashing the people of the city to help holding the Municipal elections. It paralleled this formula with the divide and rule policy of the British while in India (Telegraph, September 17, 2009). As has been mentioned, the elections to the Shillong Municipal Board were introduced in the year 1920 and remained functional only until the year 1966. These elections were held only under the Government of Assam prior to the formation of the State of Meghalaya. The State of Meghalaya was carved out in 1971-72 which also coincided with the year that the Municipal election was due, and no Municipal elections have been conducted since. Municipal administration in Shillong appeared to be a

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mere dictation of the Government of Assam without the popular consent of the local people in the city. Many governments that came into power in Meghalaya have made attempts to conduct the Municipal elections in the state capital but all such attempts have borne no fruitful results. In 2006, the Congress-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) under the leadership of D. D. Lapang took a decision to hold Municipal elections in Shillong in accordance with the direction given by the Supreme Court in the year 2000. Prior to this, in the year 2000 itself, the State Government tried to conduct the Municipal elections but was unsuccessful as no one filed nomination papers from any Ward and to date the civic polls have not been held in the Meghalaya capital. The State Government’s interest in conducting the Municipal elections in Shillong seems to have been guided by the lure of central government schemes for the development of urban areas which will become operative only when the city has an elected civic body. For example, in the year 2006 the then Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Kumari Selja lamented that the Meghalaya State capital did not have an elected civic body and was losing a huge chunk of central funds. She suggested the State should have an elected civic body to reap the benefits of numerous central schemes, which are not granted to states without an elected Municipal Board. Talking to a group of reporters of the State at that time, the Union Minister underscored the importance of having an elected civic body in having many developmental schemes sponsored by the centre for implementation through the Municipal Board (Shillong Times, September 19, 2006). It is to be mentioned here that the majority of the Central projects are implemented through tripartite agreements comprising of the civil societies, the Centre and the respective State Governments. However, the State Government on many occasions has tried to hold Municipal elections, but due to tremendous opposition from various NGOs including the KSU and Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong, besides other organisations, it could not do so. The local organisations are apprehensive that once the Municipal Board comes into being, then the traditional organisations will cease to function. The traditional bodies would not have any say on various development projects that would be implemented by the Municipal Board. They insist that such polls would dilute the powers of the local dorbars. They also believe that the election of Ward Commissioners would duplicate the process of local administration, resulting in needless extra expenditure. The former Secretary of the Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong, H. P. Oflyn Dohling claimed that the headman was playing the Ward Commissioner’s role and so civic officials were not needed (Telegraph, May 2, 2006).


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In addition to the State Government, other organisations like the NonTribal Youth Union (NTYU) are also in favour of conducting Municipal elections in Shillong. The NTYU went to the extent of moving the court for the same. Responding to the decision of the Court in the year 2000 with regard to the holding of Municipal elections moved by the NTYU, the State Government filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the directive of the Guwahati High Court to hold the polls. Subsequently, the State Government filed two more petitions seeking more time for holding the civic polls and challenging another direction of the High Court to reserve one-third of the seats of the Municipality for women. A. H. Scott Lyngdoh stated that the Government in adhering to the court’s direction will now also reserve nine of the 27 seats in the Municipality for women. The process is on to identify the nine seats which will be reserved in rotation. Four seats of Ward Commissioners are nominated by the Government in the thirty-one-member municipal body (Ibid.). The entire issue of municipal elections has been mired in controversy for a number of years. The Guwahati High Court acted on public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the NTYU which asked the Government to hold the civic polls (which had not been held since 1966). Sections of the local populace have vehemently opposed the Municipality polls fearing that this body will be dominated by the non-tribal populace that resides in the Municipal wards. The Government, though sympathetic to local sentiments, was trapped by its own actions. In 1973, the Government of Meghalaya notified in the Gazette that no part of any areas in Shillong Municipality would be deemed to be under the jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC). It was on these grounds that the Supreme Court rejected the State Government’s petition challenging the direction to hold the polls.

Conclusion Even though the Shillong Municipality is facing a chronic problem, it is unjustified to rule out the significance of municipal governance in a growing city like Shillong. In fact, the opposition of traditional institutions and local NGOs to municipal polls is not based on the grounds that they are against municipal governance in the city. The problem is with the representational system of this civic body and the non-recognition of traditional institutions. The need of the hour is for sincere efforts both by the government and the traditional institutions to find an equilibrium point where both can collaborate and render adequate services to the inhabitants

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of this small metropolis. In a democratic set-up, there cannot be any legitimate government without a mandate from the people. An election is considered to be the gift of democracy and perhaps it is also the best way to find the popular mandate. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts seek to develop the rural and urban local bodies not only as units of political or electoral democracy at the lowest level but also as the units of socio-economic democracy. Social democracy means a way of life with dignity for a person as the normal social intercourse with liberty, equality and fraternity, while economic democracy is implicit so that inequalities in income, opportunities and status should be minimised and as far as possible marginalised. To ensure this, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the right to life to include the right to the development of urban areas, the right to fresh water or air, the right to roads in hilly regions because access to roads is said to have access to life itself, and all those amenities which are essential to make the right to life meaningful. Under these two Acts, the Municipalities along with the Panchayati Raj institutions may be considered as the constitutional instrumentalities to elongate socio-economic and political democracy in the country. India is now under new federalism with three sets of government; the Union, the State and the local bodies. These bodies are integral components in building up the socio-economic and political democratic Indian State. Indian democracy today without local self-government at its base is like a chain without its bottom bead. Shillong has lost many urban developmental schemes from central government because it does not have an elected civic body. The Government of India, for instance, has made it compulsory that the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) can be implemented only through such elected bodies. Therefore, the factor which will determine the commencement of this mission in our State lies in strengthening municipal governance and its functioning, including the implementation of decentralised measures, in accordance with the provisions of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992. This will entail the holding of municipal elections to install an elected urban local body and its meaningful engagement in the planning, function and delivery of services to the citizens. Civic services delivered by all special agencies in urban areas have to be transferred to the elected body and accountability platforms are to be created for all urban civic service providers in transition. A Municipal election, which is a thorny issue, has not been held in Shillong since 1967, the primary reason being the strong opposition of traditional institutions like the dorbar shnongs which were apprehensive of the erosion of their customary authority and power which


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amongst others, include the delivery and monitoring of civic amenities within their respective jurisdictions. However with the changing times and situation the traditional institutions are realising the need for a more realistic stance and the inevitability of co-existence with other constitutional bodies. The Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong, as it appears from interaction with its members, has adopted a pragmatic view on the issue. They are now open to the holding of civic polls before which, according to them, the powers and duties of Ward Commissioners need to be clearly defined. The Meghalaya Municipal Act 1973 is actually silent in this regard. The Synjuk is of the opinion that the functioning of Ward Commissioners should remain exclusively with municipal affairs in policy-making and obtaining clearance/sanction of proposed schemes on civic amenities. The Ward Commissioners are to act as a vital link between the traditional institutions and the municipality without impinging on the conventional functions and duties of the dorbar. The traditional institutions on their part need to appreciate the fact that a synergy between the Municipality, represented by Ward Commissioners, and the dorbar shnong is imperative as the JNNURM has no provision for funding to maintain all urban infrastructures created in this mission. The execution of projects is another grey area, which as per the reform agenda of the mission is the responsibility of the elected urban local body, including their sustenance, by levying reasonable user charges with the objective that the full and recurring costs of operation and maintenance are recovered. Civic election has to be preceded by the delimitation of Wards by a select committee in which Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong wants representation from their fold. The working group constituted by the government for the re-delimitation of Wards will have to carefully study all these aspects. Moreover, the majority of areas to be covered in the mission fall outside the Shillong Municipal Board. Almost all the shnongs are averse to being included within the Municipal ambit at this stage. There is optimism and consensus in principle among all concerned to solve this contentious issue at the earliest moment. It has to be a matter of give and take with flexibility on the part of traditional institutions to imbibe certain compulsory norms of the reform agenda, if benefits are to be harnessed from the central government for the common good. Modernisation has given rise among the tribes of Meghalaya to the emergence of the new political elite in the society. But when all is said and done, the fact remains that the people of the State have not been able to entirely discard their traditional institutions nor totally absorb new ideas. At most, the society lies somewhere in transition––from tradition to modernity, which may sometimes be called “the modernity of tradition”.

Traditional Institutions and Urban Governance in Meghalaya


As the tribal people of Meghalaya have not been able to entirely discard their traditional institutions, the same continue to function side by side with the modern constitutional institutions; it is in this respect that we have the tradition-modernity dichotomy (interview). This condition is very relevant in the field of urban governance in Shillong city where there seems to be a clash of interest between the traditional institutions and the modern system of administration. In this context, there seems to be a dire need to amend the present Meghalaya Municipal Act to ensure that there is coexistence and cooperation between the two over the matter of governance in the city for the benefit of the people.

Notes 1. An urban agglomeration is a continuous urban spread constituting a town and its adjoining outgrowths (see Census of India, 2011). 2. Classes of towns in India by population size: Class I: 100,000 and above; Class II: 50,000 to 99,999; Class III: 20,000 to 49,999; Class IV: 10,000 to 19,999; Class V: 5,000 to 9,999 and Class VI: Less than 5,000 persons (see Census of India, 2011). 3. A city is defined as a place with a population of 1,000,000 and above (see Census of India, 2011). 4. The area of the Shillong Urban Agglomeration was defined by the Government of Meghalaya (see Meghalaya State Development Report 2008-2009, p. 211). 5. A Dorbar Shnong is the Khasi traditional people’s council of one particular Shnong, village or locality with adult males as its members. 6. A Raid is an agglomeration of a few villages; it has a council comprising of chiefs from a number of villages which varies in the number of representatives. 7. A Hima is a territorial area normally under the traditional chieftainship of the Syiem. It also has a council comprising of clan representatives from a number of Raids and Shnongs forming the Hima. 8. As of today, there is no legal empowerment on the dorbar shnongs in the Khasi Hills as the Village Administration Bill of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council still awaits the assent from the Governor of Meghalaya. 9. See the Sixth Schedule to the Indian Constitution, paragraph 3(e).


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References Choudhury, Usharanee. 1992-93. Municipal Government in India (with special reference to Assam). Guwahati: Seven Stars Publication Pvt. Ltd. Gassah, L. S. 1984. “Shillong as an Administrative and Political Centre (1971-1981)”. In B. Pakem (ed.) Shillong 1971-81. Calcutta: Research India Publications. Gopalakrishnan, R. 2001. Meghalaya: Land and People. New Delhi: Omsons Publications. Meghalaya Municipal Act. 1973. Government of Meghalaya. “Proceedings of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Debates”. Shillong, 30/06/1972. Accessed through on February 25, 2015. “Shillong Cantonment Board: Profile”. Accessed through on February 25, 2015. “Shillong City Disaster Management Plan”. Accessed through on February 25, 2015. Ramachandran, Padma. 1996. Public Administration in India. New Delhi: National Book Trust. Rao, V. V. 1973. Local Self-government. Calcutta: Rupabani Press. The Telegraph. Kolkata. September 17, 2009. The Shillong Times. Shillong. September 19, 2006. The Telegraph. Kolkata. May 2, 2006. “Urban Governance Index: A tool to measure progress in achieving good urban governance”. Accessed through on April 14, 2015.

Interview Interview with L. S. Gassah on August 14, 2015.


Introduction Traditional institutions are institutions with a set of customs passed down over generations which creates, enforces and applies laws, mediates conflict, makes (governmental) policy on the economy and social system and otherwise provides representation to the populous. In general parlance, traditional institutions may be perceived as establishments based on customs and traditions, upheld, revered and respected more often than not, especially in the case of indigenous people, for symbolising the cultural identity of the community they serve and embodying democratic principles. Customs, conventions and values rather than the written word of law are often the driving force behind the actions of these traditional institutions and as such they are accepted and practised by society (Toki Blah, 2004). In other words, traditional institutions include all forms of human institutions which have moral sanctions behind them and are recognised by the society. But it is believed that many of these moral sanctions are often flexible and adaptable in the context of change. S. C. Dube indicates that several traditional institutions are flexible enough to adapt themselves for new purposes with slight structural modifications (Rao, 1986: 25). Traditionally these institutions were generally localised and usually restricted at the village level. Tribal organisations in India have been designated by the Constitution as “traditional institutions”. In the State of Meghalaya, all three major communities, the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo continue to have their own


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traditional political institutions which have withstood the test of time. The evolution of such institutions is based on age-old tradition and usage where all the four crucial components of governance exist today: the rules of succession to different offices, the management of affairs by Dorbars (councils), the administration of justice and politico-religious observances. The main feature of traditional tribal administration in Meghalaya is the democratic content from the grass-roots level to the top echelons of the administration. In the Khasi and Jaintia Hills the village is the basic unit of administration. It was the families and clans living together in a particular location or area for cultivation and for other purposes which generally formed the smallest unit of political societies called Shnong in Khasi dialect and Chnong in Jaintia dialect that is, a village (Pakem, 1987: 244). The Khasi and Jaintia traditional institutions were fairly well-developed and functioned at various tiers, such as the clan level, village level and state level. Mathur in his book, Khasi of Meghalaya (1979: 70) has stated that the traditional dorbar system of the Khasi functions at four levels, starting from the clan council or Dorbar Kur, the village council or Dorbar Shnong, the congregation of villages council or Dorbar Raid (commune council), and, at the top, the state council or Dorbar Hima. Each of these has its own head and their authority is subordinate to a central one giving the administration a hierarchical structure. A dorbar shnong is headed by the Rangbah Shnong (village headman), while Lyngdohs or Basans headed the dorbar raid, and the Syiem was the head of the dorbar hima. However, an addition to tradition, as new requirements arose, was the emergence of a tier of administration at the lowest rung called the Dong, a block or zone. This appears to be the bottom level of today’s pyramid of administration of traditional institutions. A number of dongs together form one dorbar shnong and every dong is headed by the Rangbah Dong.

The Dorbar Shnong The idea of self-government right up to the grassroots level was present in most tribal societies of the past. In the Khasi-Jaintia polity too, the practice of self-government was well-defined and universal across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Traditionally, Khasi villages have enjoyed autonomy in the organisation and management of their own affairs and have exercised collective control over their natural and human resources. This collective control is exercised by the village council, the dorbar shnong. Law and order, peace and harmony and all legal administration in the village were regulated and looked after by the dorbar shnong, headed

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


by the village headman, rangbah shnong. The village, ka shnong was one of the primary political units of settled collective life (Lyngdoh, 2015: 307) and every village has its own local tribal assembly or council of elders. The dorbar shnong was formed and set up by all resident villagers. All the inhabitants of a village are called trai shnong (translated loosely as citizens). Nongkynrih (2002: 69-70) classified trai shnong into two groups: (i) Nongseng Shnong (“earlier settlers” or “the settlers” in the village); and (ii) Shongthap (“later settlers” in the village). The term Shongthap may refer to a group (in the sense of a clan or family, kur or iing) or an individual (an in-marrying male immigrating from another village). In the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, ka dorbar shnong is based on male adult franchise and the administration is carried out by an assembly of all resident adult males under an informal headman elected by them from among their number. Thus all the adult male inhabitants, ki Rangbah, of the village are required to attend the sessions of the dorbar. Women are not allowed to participate in the dorbar system. Again, persons without moustaches or with physical deformities or those who are mentally retarded are not allowed to take part in the dorbar (Jyrwa, 1993). Every rangbah inducted into the village council is a life member. The dorbar shnong has as its head a Tymmen Shnong/Rangbah Shnong or Waheh Chnong (Jaintia Hills) that is, the village headman entrusted with administrative responsibilities falling within the jurisdiction of the village. Personal integrity, reliability, honesty and far-sightedness are principles applied in selecting a headman, apart from their legal knowledge, wisdom and sense of justice. The headman functions on the principle of collective decision-making. The decision-making process is generally by consensus and is inclusive and participatory in character. This applies to setting standards for the community, including guidelines for the management of resources and judicial matters. The village headman in consultation with village elders (Bakhraws) amicably settles disputes. In major issues that dramatically affect the survival of the community, such as in the case of war or a dispute over important resources, a unanimous decision is required from all council members and the community as a whole. In exercising his duties and responsibilities he is assisted by a small executive council, comprising of a council of elders, ki Bakhraw or ki Tymmen ki San (Lyngdoh, 2015: 309). The dorbar shnong meets at any time of the day, morning (Ka Dorbar Step), day (Ka Dorbar Sngi) or night (Ka Dorbar Miet) at least once a year to discuss matters concerning the village. It may also meet more often depending on necessity. The meetings are presided over by the village


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headman who functions for the welfare of the village. At the meeting every adult male member has the right to be heard during the deliberations. The opinion of every member is respected and deliberations can continue until a collective decision is taken. Approval of a decision is indicated by a nod or the raising of hands. Every decision taken at the village council meeting is revered. The dorbar had administrative, financial and adjudicatory functions. The dorbar gave “directives for dayto-day administration” and functioned as a “court to dispose of cases and inflict penalties upon all wrongdoers” (Bareh, 1964). The dorbar shnong has the highest authority in all matters related to the village, the power and authority derived from traditions of authority and traditional practice, which had the force of law. Village sanitation, water supply, health, roads and schools are activities under the jurisdiction of the dorbar. The dorbar is also responsible for protecting and strengthening the morale of the community.

The Dorbar Chnong in Jaintia Hills Like the Khasi, the growth of the indigenous institutions of the Jaintia Hills can also be traced by the development of the kinship of all members, headed by a man descending from the female line, living as a community on a particular area of land with the advent of common worship (Bhattacharya, 1985: 329). These traditional political institutions played a very crucial role in the process of self-management as they were also responsible for looking after the socio-economic welfare of the people. A three-tier system of administration was established with the king at its head (U Syiem to the hill people and Raja to his subjects in the plains); the second tier was composed of the Raids or Elakas (provinces) each under the provincial governor, U Doloi and the third was the village administration under the village headman, U Waheh Chnong. Occasionally, an extra tier between the provinces and villages was instituted when the province was too large and such an extra tier was usually placed in the charge of a Lieutenant Governor or U Pator (Gassah, 2013: 10). However, the traditional institution of administration at grass roots level in Jaintia Hills, the dorbar chnong, with the office of the waheh chnong evolved out of necessity. The evolution of the office of the waheh chnong in Jaintia Hills started when the inhabitants felt it necessary to bifurcate the dual functions of religious and secular affairs held from time immemorial by the Langdoh, that is, the priest. With the increase of political functions, the office of u waheh chnong (village headman) was created and the waheh chnong was elected. This is generally a role he

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


takes up for a lifetime unless otherwise removed by adult male persons in the open meeting through a voice vote (Bhattacharya, 1985: 333). With this, the waheh chnong in a village is left with matters purely of local concern to be managed by him in his respective jurisdiction. The waheh chnong is assisted by a group of elders which forms a village executive dorbar. They cater to the political and social needs of the people and strive to bring about peace and moral order in the village. The dorbar chnong thus emerged when the office of the waheh chnong in Jaintia Hills came into existence. Although the office of the Syiem was abolished by the British in 1835 after the Jaintia Hills were placed under the British administration, the traditional chiefs like the Doloi, Pator and Waheh Chnong were retained by the British to assist them in running the administration of the area concerned. With time Jowai became the base for British military operations and subsequently the sub-divisional headquarters. With this transition, the institution of the waheh chnong or local headman was also abolished altogether, for reasons that are unclear (Lamare, 2005: 55). It is not possible to simply conclude that the institution of dorbar chnong disappeared with the abolition of the office of the waheh chnong. Today elements of governance do continue to exist at the local rung of administration in the Jaintia Hills and many of the village councils in Jowai function and lay down guidelines for the conduct of community activities in accordance with local traditions. It therefore becomes important to explore the role and function of the dorbar chnong as far as Jowai town is concerned and to study the position of the office of the waheh chnong at present. In the process, it becomes essential to also understand the changing structure of the dorbar chnongs, their continuing importance in respect to local justice, land and community development activities, the mechanism adopted to adjust themselves to new ideas in the political set-up and how they rekindled their traditional concept in relation to the modern system of governance.

Jowai Town Jowai is a picturesque town, the headquarters of West Jaintia Hills District of the State of Meghalaya and home to the Pnar (Jaintia) tribe. Situated at an altitude of 1364 metres above sea level, it lies in the west central part of West Jaintia Hills covering an area of 18.55 sq kms at a latitude of 25.26 (N) and longtitude of 92.12 (E). Jowai stands in a beautiful hilly setting surrounded by the Myntdu River except for the north-eastern portion from which the river originates. The town is 66 km to the east of Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya and just 54 km from


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Bangladesh (Jowai Civil Defence Plan, 2014: 2). Jowai was the residence of the then Sub-Divisional Officer of the British and the centre of considerable trade when the area came under British rule in 1835 (Allen, 1980: 99). Today Jowai town is administered by a municipality whose functions include the maintenance and repair of roads and footpaths, drinking-water supply and general sanitation (Census, 2011: 12). As per a report released by Census India 2011, the Jowai municipality has a population of 28,430 of which 13,675 are males while 14,755 are females. In an urban area such as Jowai, it may be noted that the nomenclature, village, has been replaced by “locality”. The residents of a locality (especially the older localities which were former villages) may include both original settlers (families and clans) as well as recent settlers (new land owners and tenants). The residents may also be of mixed composition: Jaintia as well as non-Jaintia. The boundaries that define the territories of these localities have also changed and may include footpaths, drains and roads––modern civic amenities of an urban environment. Every locality is administered by a dorbar chnong, the local council, whose role and responsibilities, like those of the present village councils in a rural environment, have increased greatly (Lyngdoh, 2015: 307). At present, there are more than twenty-one localities in Jowai town, each having a dorbar chnong, known by different names, which falls under an organisation of local councils, Ka Synjuk ki Dorbar Chnong (Interview). Each locality is comprised of a Secretary and a Chairman who are also members of the village dorbar or dorbar chnong. The number of executive members in each village dorbar differs depending on the size and jurisdiction of the village or locality. Generally, these dorbar chnongs uphold democratic principles by means of having adequate representation and consultations in governing a community. They perform functions which are mainly administrative, municipal and financial. The enforcement of law and order is the first and foremost duty of the dorbar. With this aim in view, they investigate the antecedents of any household that wants to shift into the locality before permission is given to move in. They also have the power to order any household to leave the locality if its presence is found to threaten the peace of the locality and the security of its inhabitants. In addition, the dorbar chnong has the responsibility to look after the common properties of the locality like grazing land and community forests (Census, 2011: 14).

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


Lion Mission Compound Dorbar The Lion Mission Compound locality is taken as a reference so as to understand how the traditional institution of the dorbar chnong functions in the present context. The Lion Mission Compound is one of the old localities located in the centre of Jowai town (Interview). It consists of five zones (each under a leader who is entrusted with the role of collector) inhabited mostly by Christians. The term “Lion” is not of local origin but given by the first Welsh Christian Missionaries and “Mission Compound” refers to an area in which the Welsh Christian Missionaries settled. This name clearly indicates that a new locality existed then, a Christian locality. However, the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong has evolved recently and it is only five to six years old. The reason for this is that the locality had, for all those years functioned under the administration of a club known as the Lion Socio Cultural Club, Mission Compound in Jowai. The club, one of the oldest in Jowai, was established in 1909 with the sole objective of running a football club which was a very popular game at that time (Souvenir, 2009: 2). Thus, the dorbar chnong of today is only the replacement of an organisation then in existence, that is, a club. Guided by a challenging and meaningful motto Chlur iai bha Yait iei sih which means “strive for what is good and avoid that which is evil”, the main aim of the Lion Mission Compound Dorbar Chnong is to bring welfare and wellbeing to the social life of its members, to bring unity, a peaceful atmosphere and closer understanding to its members as well as the community. The dorbar chnong has no part in the political or religious affairs of the society but works together with the government and religious institutions to keep the locality free from unhealthy habits and to bring peace and unity to the locality. The important priorities of the dorbar chnong are the protection of the individual rights of each and every one of its inhabitants without discrimination of caste, creed or religion and the preservation of the culture and customs of tribal identity. The dorbar chnong also takes the responsibility of maintaining healthy surroundings by removing uncleanliness and pollution in the locality; by repairing the water supply resources, roads, footpaths, street lights and other physical amenities that can bring a harmonious social life. In carrying out these activities it works in close coordination with the concerned government departments of the district. The dorbar chnong also tries to develop and uplift the aesthetic beauty of the locality and the community by promoting music and drama, concerts, sports and games and similar recreational activities aimed at enriching the talents of the community. The Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong also renders assistance to those


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individuals and families afflicted with natural calamities, especially to those who have lost their lives and dear ones (Constitution, 2007: 2-3). The Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong has a Rangbah Chnong (Headman) whose present designation has been converted from that of President, a post held in the then Lion Socio Cultural Club. He is no longer a clan-based, hereditary and permanent representative of the locality but is today a term-based elected representative. He is assisted by other office bearers, an Assistant Rangbah Shnong, General Secretary, Assistant Secretary and a Treasurer. In addition, there are nine office bearers who are executive members of the dorbar and two Auditors who are not part of the Executive Committee of the dorbar (Constitution, 2007: 11). Together, the office bearers and the executive members constitute the Executive Committee of the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong. The term of office of all these executive committee members is two years and there is no bar on re-election. For smooth and effective functioning, the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong has constituted several branch committees which include the Music Committee, Finance Committee, Village Defence Party Committee, Light Committee and Planning Committee. In addition, there is also the Seng Kynthei, the Lion Women Social Welfare Organisation within the dorbar chnong that looks after the welfare of women in the locality. The dorbar chnong also promotes youth development activities through the Seng Samla, the Sports and Youth Affairs Branch which is the youth organisation of the locality (Constitution, 2007: 22-27). The Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong today functions in accordance with the guidelines set up by the Club itself and on the basis of the revised and amended constitution of the Lion Socio Cultural Club. Proceedings of meetings are recorded and confirmed at every subsequent meeting. The dorbar chnong convenes two types of meetings––the executive committee meeting and the general meeting. Executive committee meetings are convened frequently as and when the need to hold such meetings arises. These meetings are presided over by the rangbah chnong and are attended by the office bearers and executive members (Constitution, 2007: 20). The dorbar chnong convenes general meetings twice a year, the first at the beginning of the year and the second at the end of the year; all residents of the locality which include both male and female are permitted to attend this general meeting. The dorbar chnong still upholds the practice that all important matters must be decided through consensus. The rangbah chnong mobilises every household of his locality. He looks after basic services such as the supply of drinking water, the construction of footpaths by organising the labour of the residents, and

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


also looks after the primary schools in the locality. For undertaking civic amenity works, the locality receives funds from the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) local area development fund apart from the funds collected from the residents of the locality (Interview). Tenants who reside in the locality have to pay Rs. 50/- as a contribution to the dorbar chnong. No decision has been taken so far for the inclusion of the tenants as members of the dorbar chnong but they are to abide by and obey the rules and regulations of the dorbar chnong (Constitution, 2007: 10). In matters relating to land disputes the headman is the supreme authority to take action with the approval of the members of the dorbar. Any undecided case is referred to the Doloi of the Jowai Elaka (Interview).

Conclusion The dorbar chnongs in Jowai are under the supervision of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC). They continue to exercise their roles and responsibilities without formal recognition in many respects. The interface between indigenous political institutions and the State has brought about numerous problems. Although the United KhasiJaintia Hills Autonomous District, Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headmen Act, 1959 Section 7, (Acts, Rules, Regulations, etc., of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, 2009: 90-91) provided that all appointments, removals and suspensions of the Headmen in the Elakas shall be confirmed by the Chief and his Dorbar and the names of such headmen shall forthwith be sent by the Chief to the Executive Committee of the Council, no steps were taken by the Council in such matters. As such, the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, although empowered by the Sixth Schedule, has so far not passed any law to regulate and streamline administration in these localities. In matters concerning the mode of election of a headman, there is no uniformity of rules followed in the localities. The tenure of members of the Executive Committee also varies from locality to locality. Even if the headman is elected no Sanad or appointment letter confirming his appointment has so far been issued by the Doloi of the Elaka. Again the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council has so far not framed rules for the effective functioning of the dorbar chnongs. The institution of dorbar chnong today is solely to rekindle the traditional concept of administration at the local level having no age-old tradition and usages. These dorbars emerged only to gain recognition and receive funds from the new administrative setup: the District Council, the Deputy Commissioner’s Office and various government departments. The


Chapter Nine

Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong functioned internally as a club in previous years but while dealing with the Jowai Municipality or the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) it functioned as a village council (Interview). The external functioning of the dorbar chnong in accordance with the terms and conditions of the state machinery reflects its fragile position. It appears that the dorbar chnong exists for the JHADC to secure financial recognition and assistance. This again reveals that the traditional institutions like village councils are often undermined by the state’s administrative systems. Therefore, there is a need to redefine the relationship between the indigenous institutions and those which uphold the protection and preservation of their rights for the better functioning of the indigenous institutions. Traditional leadership in the village council in the form of a village headman was chosen from a certain original or founding clan or clans. But today, the educated elite of the locality who exhibit legal knowledge, wisdom and responsibility, in most cases, occupy the office of village headman (Gassah, 1992). Besides most of the members in the different committees are either nominated or elected as representatives to the dorbar which gives rise to the question of the validity of the dorbar chnong of today in representing the traditional institutions of yesteryear. In the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong, the rangbah chnong was simply redesignated from the previously held post of President of the club which signifies the absence of a democratic environment in the locality that he manages and operates in. This was due to either the lack of interest of the members of the dorbar chnong concerned or contentment with the earlier practice carried on from the previous institution, that of a club. Again, that the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong functions today on the guidelines set up by the constitution of the club, signifies that the institution was a copycat of a previous organisation and only a retrograde of the traditional institution. This dorbar chnong first started as a club under the guidance of the Welsh Christian Missionaries, so elements of Christianity must have been incorporated in the rules and regulations of the dorbar chnong which again raises doubts about the inclusion of the traditional values and customary laws of a village council. An interesting development that is seen today is that women of the locality, who are either the Secretary of the Seng Kynthei or members of other branch committees can become members of the executive committee. The representation of women and youth organisations who are not only permitted but in some cases also elected as members of the executive committee of the Dorbar Chnong, strictly against traditional practices, reflects the conflict of values between the traditional and

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


modern where traditional values are under pressure to accommodate constitutional norms and practices of Indian democracy (Baruah, 2004; Malngiang, 1995).The inclusion of women as members of the executive committee of the dorbar chnong as in the case of the Lion Mission Compound dorbar chnong shows a complete deviation from traditional practices and against the norms of the society which forbade women from attending and participating in the traditional dorbar. However the dorbar chnongs are not as completely representative as they have been perceived to be. At present most of the localities in Jowai town have tried to rekindle this traditional institution with slight modifications, using western terminology, concepts and functionaries and drifting away from the traditional ones. Most of the dorbar chnongs prefer to use terms such as locality instead of chnong, and headman or President instead of waheh chnong. The dorbar chnongs of Jowai should organise themselves in relation to tradition, traditional practices and traditional social spaces. The modern constitutionally set-up Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council should not abandon tradition and traditional practices but rather uphold them. The state government must take committed and affirmative measures to develop institutional designs to address the challenges faced by these traditional institutions (Lyngdoh, 2015: 322). On the other hand, the dorbar chnong needs to address more effectively the complex present-day realities and situations faced by its members. The changing patterns of land tenure, including the selling of lands to outsiders, the emergence of new types of leaders, and the influx of non-indigenous migrants are complex issues that indigenous institutions have to address. These developments are directly impacting the capacity of traditional institutions to maintain the cohesion, unity and cooperation of its members while at the same time ensuring and upholding the interests of the community members and the recognition of their rights and welfare. Outside entities like corporations and the introduction of schemes and development projects have at times clashed with the customary laws which uphold the essence of a village council. The dorbar chnongs can contribute more effectively to governance if they are ready to accommodate change that would not hamper their traditional norms and values.


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References Acts, Rules, Regulations, etc., of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (1967–2009). 2010. Jowai: Publicity Department, JHADC. Allen, B. C. 1980. Gazetteer of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills Garo Hills Lushai Hills. Delhi: Mittal Publishers. Bhattacharya, D. C. 1985. “Khasi-Jaintia Indigenous Institutions: An Unseen Feature”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Bareh, H. 1964. Khasi Democracy. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. Baruah, A. K. 2004. “Ethnic Conflicts and Traditional Self-governing Institutions: A Study of Laitumkhrah Dorbar”. Working Paper No. 39. London: Crisis States Programme. Blah, Toki. 2004. “Traditional Institutions and Urban Governance”. Shillong: The Shillong Times (May 3 and 4, 2004). Census of India 2011, Meghalaya, Series 18 Part Xii––B District Census Handbook Jaintia Hills Village and Town Wise. Primary Census Abstract (PCA). Meghalaya: Directorate of Census Operations. Gassah, L. S. 2013 (reprint). Traditional Institutions of Meghalaya: A Study of the Doloi and his Adminstration. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Gassah, L. S. 1992. “Traditional and Emerging Leadership Patterns in Khasi-Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya”. In B. C. Bhuyan (ed.) Political Development of the North-East. Part II. New Delhi: Omsons Publications. Jowai Civil Defence Plan. 2014. Jowai: Controller of Civil Defence, West Jaintia Hills District. “Jowai Population Census 2011”. Accessed through on 15 February 2016. Jyrwa, E. 1993. “Traditional Village Council of the Khasi”. Proceedings of the North East India Political Science Association. Shillong: Third Annual Conference, Doimukh, NEIPSA. Ka Revised bad Amended Constitution jong ka Lion Socio Cultural Club, Jowai (2nd Edition). 2007. Lamare, Shobhan N. 2005. The Jaintias: Studies in Society and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publication. Lyngdoh, Charles Reuben. 2015. “Vitality of Local Administration: The Dorbar Shnong”. In L. S. Gassah and C. J. Thomas (eds.) Democracy and Development in India’s North-East Challenges and Opportunities. Delhi: Bookwell.

The Changing Dynamics of the Dorbar Chnong at Jowai Township


Mathur, P. R. G. 1979. Khasi of Meghalaya. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications. Nongkynrih, A. K. 2002. Khasi Society of Meghalaya: A Sociological Understanding. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. Malngiang, P. 1995. “The Traditional Durbar System in the Khasi Hills”. Proceedings of the North East India Political Science Association. Shillong: Fifth Annual Conference, Union Christian College, Barapani, NEIPSA. Pakem, B. 1987. “State Formation in Pre-colonial Jaintia”. In Surajit Sinha (ed.) Tribal Polities and State Systems in Pre-colonial Eastern and North Eastern India. New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company. Rao, P. V. 1986. Institutional Framework for Tribal Development. Delhi: Inter India Publication. The Lion Socio Cultural Club, Mission Compound, Jowai, Souvenir (1909–2009) Centenary Jubilee (100 years).

Interview Interview with Shri M. C. Rymbui, Village Headman, Lion Mission Compound Dorbar Chnong on the 16th June 2014.


Introduction Traditionally, the political structure of the Khasi states was basically democratic and functioned independently and there was no centralised structure. The evolution of Syiemship can be attributed to the vital role played by the Basans and Lyngdohs to transform the society, which still continues to date. These basans and lyngdohs hailing from the founding clans are responsible for creating the Syiemship. The Khasi states were governed by a Dorbar presided over by the chief and the representatives of the ruling families and villages within the state (Bareh, 1997: 234). However the advent of the British into the Khasi and Jaintia Hills during the nineteenth century witnessed the introduction of new forms of administration and local governance. The introduction of modern institutions by the Indian Constitution after India attained its independence brought drastic changes to the existing traditional political institutions practised by the Khasi. In the Jaintia Hills it is found that villages which clustered around a particular area recognised themselves as the components of a single political entity. Villages then joined together to form the Elaka (province), a single settlement which is unitary in nature. The chief of this elaka is called the Doloi and he is the territorial ruler and represents the Rajship of his elaka. A Doloi can be elected from among the most senior members and this practice is strictly maintained. A Doloi can be removed from office by his people for misrule or corruption (Gassah, 1998: 10-11). Dolois also perform certain rituals and so generally, the Doloi should be an adherent of the traditional religion though nowadays there are exceptions.

Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Institutions


And in this case, when the Doloi is not of the traditional religion, a Doloi niam should be there for the performance of the rituals (Gassah, 1998: 3031). The aggregation of elakas which differ in size formed the Jaintia Syiemship (kingship). Sutnga Syiemship is regarded as a mother syiemship (Bareh, 1997: 44). There is a difference between the administration of the paramount chief (Raja) and the administration of the Doloi in Jaintia Hills. Dolois represent the people of their respective elaka in the Raja's dorbar. This kind of administrative set-up is the foremost administrative unit in Jaintia Hills. This old traditional system of administration still continues to exist today except for the Raja. The office of the Raja was abolished by the British after they took over the administration of Jaintia Hills in 1835. However the British retained the other offices of the traditional chiefs in the area, like the Doloi, Pator and Waheh Chnong (village headmen) to assist the British authorities in running the administration. There are dorbars at different levels like the village dorbar, elaka dorbar, and syiem dorbar. The powers of the Raja and the Doloi were checked by the dorbars of their respective areas (Bareh, 1997: 43). The dorbar provided the opportunity for people to participate in their own affairs. The dorbar kept a check on the functionaries of the traditional institutions.

Traditional Institution of the Khasis The village council, dorbar shnong is an assembly of all adult males under the direction of the village headman called the Rangbah Shnong (Nongkynrih, 2002: 66). Besides looking after the welfare of the villagers, the dorbar shnong supervises customary practices and enforces discipline among its members. It also performs important functions in administration, and the executive and judicial matters of the villages. The political system of the Khasi matrilineal society evolved in and around the clan, ka kur. Even though the political system cannot be traced historically, scholars assume that without clan participation the traditional political system may not have evolved. As time passed, the clans grew in number. A need arose to set up an ordered system whether it was social or political. Thus, the concept of the uncle, U kni (from the maternal side) arose. He became the sole decision-maker and performed the legal and religious rites in the clan council, ka dorbar kur. Later this same principle was adopted in consultation with other elderly clan members to elect a leader of the village known as basan or lyngdoh to handle the oath of administration of the village known as the dorbar shnong. As the members increased, people felt the need to strengthen the traditional political unit and joined


Chapter Ten

hands with members of adjacent Khasi villages to form a Raid (commune). The common affairs of these villages were administered at the commune level by a dorbar raid, the commune council. Generally in a regional cluster of villages the headman or priest (lyngdoh) would preside over the council. The function of this council was to settle both civil and judicial matters, boundary disputes between villages, and the administration of the land and forest of the raid. Further, several raids joined together to form the Khasi state, Hima. The chief of a Khasi state is called a Syiem (the terminology used to designate the chief is different in different Khasi states). The chief carried out his duties and responsibilities with the assistance of a small council, the dorbar synshar, comprising of council members representing the important clans of the particular Khasi state. There was also the dorbar hima, the general council representing all adult male members of the Khasi state. This dorbar has the power to legislate, adjudicate and execute the law. The dorbar is the supreme authority in the Khasi state and people also called it the Dorbar Hima or the Dorbar Pyllun. In this dorbar hima all the adult males of the state attend and take part in its deliberations.

The Office of the Chief (Syiem) and his Role The office of succession of the Syiem varies from place to place but the laws and procedures are the same. For instance, the office of the chief went to the eldest of the uterine brothers or to any of the brothers of the deceased chief. If the first choice failed, the office would be succeeded by his maternal cousin’s brother, that is, the eldest of his sister’s sons. There is a saying, Haba duh long Syiem ki thung Syiem na kiwei na ki jait ki bym dei ki jait Bakhraw…wat da u mraw ruh ki pynlong Syiem, which means that when a Syiem’s or chief’s clan becomes extinct, a Syiem or chief is chosen from a clan which is not a founding clan …they can even choose a slave for the office. The office of Syiem is reserved only for the ruling clan of that particular Hima, Khasi state, and the ruling clan was known as kur Syiem or Syiem clan. The Syiem clan was made up of different sub-clans and families. When choosing the Syiem priority was always given to male members of a particular family from a designated sub-clan. Representatives of other clans could not be considered for the chieftainship and even the selection of eligible male members to be elected as chief was generally made on the basis of seniority. Women were debarred from serving as chief since Khasi custom does not permit women to hold the office of the chief or Syiem (Singh, 1985: 17-18). The succession act to be elected as Syiem was also clearly defined in the customary law of the Khasi.

Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Institutions


The chief was the executive head of the state and he is the one who convenes the state dorbar, fixes the agenda and initiates the discussions. He plays a prominent role in all social, religious and festive gatherings as well as in the market place and is highly respected by all the people of his state. His visits to the villages of the state were marked with due respect. Being the chief he has a dual role to perform, that is, secular and religious duties. The maintaining of law and order and ensuring the peace, prosperity and the successful defence of the state depended on his ability to be a courageous leader. During times of emergency, conflict or wars, the chief exercises the powers of commander-in-chief. He listens to the petitions of the poor and needy and those who seek social justice. Any decision he takes or implements is with the consent of the dorbar. In other words, power is in the hands of the people. As a chief he also has to perform religious duties which are shared by the priests. In the case of the Khyrim state, a priestess, Ka Syiem Sad looks after religious affairs. While rituals like Ka Pomblang in Khyrim state, the cremation of a dead chief in Cherrapunji state, as well as other sacrifices and religious activities were performed and conducted by the priest, the presence of the chief was necessary and he takes an active part in making arrangements for them.

Ki Bakhraw Ki Bakhraw are representatives of clans believed to have been the earlier settlers of the Hima. These settlers had their own dorbar, ka Dorbar Kur (clan council) and each clan sent its representative to the Dorbar Hima. This representative was normally the eldest or most senior member of the clan and was called the Rangbah Kur. The representative held this position until his death or until such time that it was difficult for him to function effectively. In such a situation another person was chosen to represent the clan in the dorbar Hima. The office was not hereditary nor was there a term system and to undertake such responsible work a married person was traditionally favoured, on the grounds that he was more mature (Snaitang, 1993: 15-16). These representatives of the clans served as advisors to the chief in political, economic and religious affairs of the state.

Municipal Administration in the Khasi Hills The British introduced a new form of governance that is, the municipal administration. This system continues today for the purpose of civic administration especially in the urban areas of Meghalaya. The Shillong


Chapter Ten

Municipal Board has a long history dating back to 1878, when a proclamation was issued constituting Shillong and its suburbs, including the villages of Mawkhar and Laban, into a station under the Bengal Municipal Act of 1876. Inclusion of the villages of Mawkhar (S.E. Mawkhar, Jaiaw and part of Jhalupara and Mawprem) and Laban (Lumparing, Madan Laban, Kench’s Trace and Rilbong) within the Municipality of Shillong was agreed to by Hain Manik, Syiem of Mylliem under the agreement of 15 November 1878 (Shillong Municipal Board website). At the local level the Shillong Municipal Board as a body executes various functions such as the allotment of public distribution outlets, the assignment of contracts under developmental schemes, municipal duties such as looking after parking rules in lanes, solid waste and sanitation management, the maintenance and management of the water supply and street lighting. The Shillong Municipal Board also ensures people the right to public health, efficient and good quality basic services to all citizens, to provide a pleasant environment, and to reduce the gap between the citizens in tune with a living standard of the present age. The elections of the Shillong Municipal Board in Meghalaya could not be held due to opposition from certain quarters on the grounds that such an attempt would dilute the credibility of the traditional institutions in the State. The traditional village headmen felt that their role in the Municipal Board should first be clearly defined. The common feeling was that their powers would be diluted once the municipal boards were constituted through election. Since the Shillong Municipal Board has no elected board of members, the administration of the Shillong Municipal Board is run by the Chief Executive Officer who is a State civil service officer. Hence grievances of the people cannot be heard as there is no public participation whatsoever.

The Autonomous District Council On the other hand, after independence another administrative set-up was introduced. The framers of the Indian Constitution acknowledged the requirement of a separate political and administrative structure for the Tribal Areas of the North Eastern Region of India by enacting the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. This Schedule provides for the establishment of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) to safeguard the identity and culture of people residing in those areas as well as the preservation of the customs, cultures, languages and ethnic identities of tribes (Gassah, 1997: 3). Thus, the adoption of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India provided for the establishment of the Autonomous

Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Institutions


District Councils (ADCs) in some hill districts of the erstwhile composite state of Assam. The entire State of Meghalaya was under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution except the European Ward, that is, Police Bazar, Oakland and Pine Mount. Presently there are three Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya functioning in accordance with the terms of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India: • The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council [(KHADC) covers the districts of East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi]; • The Garo Hills Autonomous District Council [(GHADC) covers the districts of East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, North Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and South West Garo Hills] • The Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council [(JHADC) covers the districts of East Jaintia Hills and West Jaintia Hills]. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council is a corporate body with legislative, executive, and judicial powers and with jurisdiction over the traditional political institutions of the Khasi functioning according to their customs and age-old practices. It consists of a total of thirty members out of which twenty-nine are elected (through adult franchise) from twentynine demarcated constituencies and one member is nominated by the Governor. The election of members of the KHADC/JHADC takes place along party lines and the political party having the majority of seats gets a chance to form the Executive Committee (EC) and run the administration. The leader of this party assumes the office of the Chief Executive Member (CEM) who presides over the meetings of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee members are entrusted with different administrative departments. This thirty-member District Council functions as a legislative body (Gassah, 1997: 48, 51). Under sub-paragraph (g) of paragraph 3(1) of the Schedule, the Autonomous District Council has been given the power to make laws in relation to the appointment or succession of the Chiefs or Headmen (Gassah, 1997: 51). The District Council approves the Sanad which has been given to the Rangbah Shnong by the Syiem. The traditional Chiefs in Jaintia Hills––the Dolois, Pators, Sirdars and Waheh Chnong or village headmen were also considered as subordinate officials by the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council.


Chapter Ten

Functions of the Autonomous District Councils The ADCs have elaborate powers and functions in the legislative, executive, judicial and financial domains. These powers are expected to uplift the tribal communities in the domains of primary education, health, culture, social customs, social welfare, forest, land, agriculture, water management, village administration, and economic and rural development. Executive––The ADCs have the executive power to construct or manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, cattle pounds, ferries, fisheries, roads and waterways. They also proscribe the medium of instruction and manner of education in primary schools within their jurisdiction. The ADCs have no legislative or regulatory power over the latter subjects (Gassah, 1997: 63). Financial––The ADCs are responsible for framing rules for the management of finances with the approval of the Governor. The ADCs are also given mutually exclusive power over the collection of land revenues, the levy and collection of taxes on lands, holdings and shops, the entry of goods into market and tolls within their respective jurisdiction. But the ADCs have concurrent power over the professions, trade, callings, employments, animals, vehicles and huts, tolls on passengers and goods carried in ferries and the maintenance of schools, dispensaries and roads. Under Paragraph 9 of the Sixth Schedule, the royalties on the licenses or leases for the extraction of minerals in the autonomous districts go to the ADCs. As regards the tax on motor vehicles, it is assigned and collected by the State Government on behalf of the ADCs. Grants-in-aid, loans and advances, etc., from the state government, constitute other sources of income of the ADCs. The ADCs also enjoy autonomy and the Acts of the Parliament and the State legislatures on the subjects under them do not normally apply to the autonomous districts. They may be extended there with such exceptions and modifications as are considered necessary by the concerned ADC/Regional Council (Gassah, 1997: 64). Legislative––The ADCs have powers to make laws for the allotment, occupation, and use of land, other than reserved forests for agriculture, grazing and other residential and non-residential purposes; the management of unreserved forests, the use of water courses and canals for agriculture purposes, the regulation of shifting cultivation, the establishment of village councils and town committees, the administration of village policy, public health and sanitation, the appointment and

Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Institutions


succession of chiefs or headmen, inheritance of property, marriage, divorce and social customs, money lending and trading by non-tribals within the autonomous districts. The Governor has the power to alter laws or rules passed by the ADCs which are in violation of the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. The Sixth Schedule thus makes the Governor the head of the Autonomous District Council (Gassah, 1997: 62). Judicial––Paragraph 4 of the Sixth Schedule empowers the ADCs to constitute Village and District Council Courts in the autonomous areas to adjudicate or try cases on customary laws in which both the parties are tribals. But no cases which involve offences punishable by death, transportation of life or imprisonment for not less than five years are heard or adjudicated by these courts. The ADC Court and the Regional Council Court are courts of appeal in respect of all suits and cases tried by the Village Council Courts and the Subordinate District Council Courts. No other courts except the High Court and the Supreme Court of India have jurisdiction over suits and cases decided by the Council Courts (Gassah, 1997: 63).

The Autonomous District Council, the Municipal Board and the State Government The rangbah shnong (village headman or local headman in the case of localities in towns) issues no-objection certificates (NOC) to non-tribals for the setting up of businesses in the shnong. This NOC is a pre-requisite for obtaining a trade licence from the ADC. Trading licences will not be issued by the ADC to any non-tribal without the NOC from the rangbah shnong. The NOC provided by the rangbah shnong to the non-tribals is proof that they are residents of the shnong and not outsiders who do not reside within the premises of the shnong. Such residential certificates are needed when an individual wishes to apply for a new phone or mobile connection, electricity connection and the opening of bank accounts. The relationship between the KHADC and the dorbar shnong however has not always been pleasant. The residential certificates provided by the rangbah shnong are not acceptable to the ADC on the grounds that these documents are not recognised by the government and hence the ADC cannot accept them as authentic documents since these traditional bodies are not legalised. The Shillong Municipal Board carries out its civic administration with the help of the dorbar shnongs. All matters relating to the construction and maintenance of roads, cleaning, the lighting of roads, drinking water, drainage, sanitation and other purposes are carried out by


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the Shillong Municipal Board through its various departments. Municipal schemes are mostly implemented through the headmen of the various localities in Shillong. The dorbar shnong tries to settle any dispute regarding land or patta issues. There have been cases where the dorbar shnong has helped people settle land disputes. However their decisions were null and void when such cases were taken to court. There have also been cases in Shillong where the dorbar shnong has banned drilling for water for personal purposes due to the scarcity of water in the locality. However the person who wishes to drill for water on his/her own land/premises approaches the Deputy Commissioner’s Office for permission and his/her appeal is granted. Therefore decisions made by the dorbar shnong are at times not taken seriously by the residents. To take an example of how a locality shares a relationship with a Khasi state and the Autonomous District Council, the urban locality of Nongthymmai is highlighted. This locality falls under the jurisdiction of Hima Mylliem. Nongthymmai covers the following localities comprising of Nongkhyriem, Lawjynriew, Lumpyngngad, Lumsohphoh, Nongrim Hills, Rynjah, Lapalang, Pohkseh, Nongshilliang, Lumiawblot, Lumbatngen (Law-u-sib) and Lumdiengsoh (Motinagar). These localities are under one main body known as the Nongthymmai Dorbar Pyllun. The members of this dorbar pyllun are the headmen of the twelve localities of Nongthymmai from which eight office bearers are elected. The dorbar shnong is considered to be a platform where people can voice their opinions and have an equal say in the various matters of the dorbar shnong. Under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, Nongthymmai dorbar pyllun is under Hima Mylliem and Mylliem Syiemship is under the jurisdiction of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council. The relationship between the Syiem of Mylliem and the Nongthymmai dorbar pyllun as well as ki dorbar shnong is that the Syiem and Dorbar of Hima Mylliem issue appointment orders called sanad to the newly elected headman under Section 16 Clause 2 of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs, Deputy Chief Electors and Rangbah Shnong of Mylliem Syiemship) Act, 2007. It is the Executive Committee of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council which legitimises the position of the rangbah shnong under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. The KHADC has a closer association with the shnongs than with the dorbar pyllun. The relationship between the dorbar shnong and the KHADC is essential as it relies on the rangbah shnong to provide the necessary certificates to the residents. However it is a strange anomaly that this practice is not acceptable by the ADC since the confirmation of the appointment of the

Relations of Traditional Institutions with Modern Institutions


rangbah shnong has legal sanctity in accordance with a prescribed Act, 2007.

Conclusion We could say in conclusion that the functioning of the traditional political institutions has been modified by the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India and the Acts passed by the ADCs over the years. First, the positions of the Syiem and the rangbah shnong have been made subordinate to the KHADC. This new political institution has eroded the powers and functions of traditional councils. Secondly, the KHADC has taken control over the appointment of the Syiem and it has the authority to remove the Syiem and Headman, if the Executive Committee of the District Council feels that these traditional authorities have violated the terms and conditions of their appointment. The functions of each dorbar shnong vary from one shnong to another. Hence there is no uniformity in the functions and development of the shnong. If there was a unified system of laws followed by all the dorbar shnongs then there would be overall development and a consistent working of the dorbar shnongs. If these traditional bodies were to be recognised by the Government they would be able to perform and implement rules more effectively. There would be a vast difference within the society. There would be an increase in regulation within the shnong. Societies today are characterised by legitimised bodies and codified rules and laws but these traditional bodies do not have any uniformity or codified rules to make them more effective in their functioning. Hence people would rather settle their problems by turning to to the modern institutions based on a body of generalised rules which have been intentionally established and therefore possess a rational justification.

References Bareh, H. 1964. Khasi Democracy. Shillong: Ri Khasi Press. —. 1997. The History and Culture of the Khasi People. New Delhi: United Publishers. Chattopadhyay, S. K. (ed.). 1985. Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Gassah, L. S. (ed.). 1997. Autonomous District Councils. New Delhi: Omsons Publications. —. 1998. Traditional Institutions of Meghalaya: A Study of the Doloi and his Administration. New Delhi: Regency Publications.


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Gurdon, P. R. T. 2002. The Khasis. New Delhi: Low Price Publications. Jyrwa, E. 2006. Administration of Justice in the Khasi Hills. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Ladia, O. D. V. 1993. The Administration of Justice in Meghalaya. Guwahati: Assam Law House. Lamare, Shobhan N. 2005. The Jaintias: Studies in Society and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Lyngdoh, R. S. 1996. Government and Politics in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Sanchar Publishing House. Mawrie, H. O. 1981. The Khasi Milieu. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Nongkynrih, A. K. 2002. Khasi Society of Meghalaya: A Sociological Understanding. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Co. Rizni, S. H. M., and Shibani Roy. 2006. Khasi Tribe of Meghalaya. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation. Rynjah, Sweetymon, and Margaret B. Challam (eds.). 1999. “The Khasi Family: Dynamic Role of Father and Maternal Uncle Family”. In The Dynamics of Family System in a Matriliny of Meghalaya. Shillong: Director Arts and Culture Tribal Research Institute. Rymbai, R. T. (ed.) 1975. Report of the Land Reforms Commission for Khasi Hills. Shillong: Government Press. Singh, Kynpham. 1985. “Syiems and Durbars in Khasi Polity”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.). Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Snaitang, O. L. 1993. Christianity and Social Change in Northeast India. Calcutta: Firma KLM Private Limited. Syiem, I. M., and Soumen Sen (eds.). 1997. Women in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Daya Publishing House.

Articles Baruah, Apurba K. 2004. “Ethnic Conflicts and Traditional Self-governing Institutions: A Study of Laitumkhrah Dorbar”. Shillong: North Eastern Institute for Development Studies (NEIDS). —. March 2003. “Tribal Traditions and Crisis of Governance in North-east India, with Special Reference to Meghalaya”. Shillong: North Eastern Institute for Development Studies (NEIDS). Sharma, Manorama. November 2004. “Critically Assessing Traditions: The Case of Meghalaya”. Shillong: North Eastern Institute for Development Studies (NEIDS).

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Rymbai, R. T. 1997. “The changing pattern of the system of government of the Khasi-Jaintia from the customary (ancient) to the documentary (modern)”. Souvenir of Meghalaya Legislative Assembly Silver Jubilee Celebration (1972-1997).



Introduction Self-governance and self-reliance are Gandhi’s vision of a free India. He believed that peoples’ empowerment should emanate from the grassroots. In India women’s political participation in general is one of the lowest in the world (Note 1). Women are considered to be the weaker sex remaining voiceless and powerless. However, the issue of gender inequality in the matrilineal system of Meghalaya draws curiosity among scholars and academicians from within the State of Meghalaya as well as from outside. Discussions and debates on the matrilineal practices in Meghalaya (where the lineage system and the inheritance of ancestral property are believed to favour women folk) have raged on for decades. In recent years Khasi society has also witnessed the emergence of a movement which has challenged the prevailing system of inheritance and the practice of matriliny in Meghalaya. The movement known as Ka Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT) is headed by a few educated Khasi men. The stand of the SRT is that men have no rights in Meghalaya (Note 2). On the other hand, women’s rights activists in Meghalaya are of the opinion that gender inequality is a big challenge for women in Meghalaya (Note 3). Though women enjoy more economic freedom than their counterparts in the rest of the country in terms of rights of inheritance of ancestral property, yet, women are not free from the evils of patriarchal values which perhaps hinder women’s development. This paper seeks to examine the effect of modernisation with special reference to the participation of women in the Dorbar Shnong (village council) which is one of the established traditional institutions in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


Khasi Women at the Crossroads An interesting aspect about the Khasi is their law of inheritance. The children’s surname belongs to the mother and daughters inherit ancestral property with the youngest daughter being in the position to inherit the larger share (Note 4). This is the reason why Khasi women in Meghalaya are believed to be more economically empowered than the men and this is also the reason which has led to the emergence of the men’s rights movement. Though the Khasi women in general and the youngest daughter in particular are empowered to own ancestral property, the latter has not been empowered to dispose of ancestral property at her own will. She has to have the approval of her clan which includes her maternal uncle. Hence, she does not enjoy economic power in a real sense but is only the custodian of the ancestral property. Thus the larger share of the ancestral property belongs to the youngest daughter, the Khatduh and she has been entrusted with a bigger responsibility to provide shelter for her unmarried brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts; it is her duty to look after her elderly parents and sick family members. Gurdon too subscribed to this view when he wrote about the position of the youngest daughter in the Khasi families, “Hers is, therefore, the largest share of the family property, because it is she whose duty it is to perform the family ceremonies, and propitiate the family ancestors” (op. cit.: 83). Hence the youngest daughter has a larger share of property rights but she also has a bigger share of responsibilities. Patricia Mukhim notes that the house of the khatduh is the ancestral home and an institution where religious ceremonies and rituals are performed especially in the non-Christian families (The Shillong Times, 2015). The practice of the matrilineal system is considered to be unique in Meghalaya, where women have more autonomy than the rest of their counterparts in India who encounter social evils such as the purda system and bride price. These evils are not practised by the Khasi society. Yet women in Meghalaya suffer from disturbing patterns of domestic violence. This has led to alarming consequences of deserted wives, single mothers and children growing up without fathers. Crimes against women are also increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Meghalaya Police records the total number of crimes against women has increased from sixty-six cases in 2001 to four hundred and eighty cases in 2014.


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Table 11.1 Registered cases of Crimes against Women Sl. No. Year 1 2001 2 2002 3 2003 4 2004 5 2004 6 2006 7 2007 8 2008 9 2009 10 2010 11 2011 12 2012 13 2013 14 2014 Source: CHRI Report 2015

Cases of Crimes against Women 66 71 69 113 131 176 172 208 237 261 269 255 343 480

Cases registered include rape, kidnapping, abduction of women and girls, molestation and sexual harassment, cruelty of husbands and relatives and some rare cases related to dowry. The Home Minister Roshan Warjri stated that the total number of rape cases registered between April 2012 and March 31, 2013 was 179, out of which 118 cases (over 65 per cent) involved victims below the age of 18. Table 11.2 Rape Cases registered district-wise: April 2012-March 2013 Sl. No. District Rapes Cases Registered 1 East Khasi Hills 62 2 West Khasi Hills 22 3 South West Khasi Hills 8 4 Ri Bhoi 32 5 East Jaintia Hills 17 6 West Jaintia Hills 16 7 East Garo Hills 3 8 West Garo Hills 6 9 North Garo Hills 2 10 South Garo Hills 8 11 South West Garo Hills 3 Source: “Rape highest reported crime in matrilineal Meghalaya”. Accessed from

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


In 2014, the Home Minister Roshan Warjri remarked on the floor of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly that crimes against women are a matter of serious concern. There is no doubt that modernisation and education have brought about radical changes to gender roles in Khasi society in the ideological consciousness of both men and women. Indeed, women are by nature endowed with better skills to nurse young children, old aged parents and sick family members and most of their time is spent on household chores and household matters in addition to their contribution towards the family income. They have also contributed enormously towards the cultural, social and economic development of the State. Despite these contributions women encounter various forms of discrimination which need to be addressed by the society. Like any other male-dominated society the decision-making process in Khasi society is also considered to be an exclusive arena for the male members. Women who speak publicly are considered by the society as the hens that crow. There is a saying in Khasi society “wei la kynih ka ‘iar’ kynthei la wai ka pyrthei” which means that once the hen crows (it is not normal for the hen to crow) the world will come to an end. The traditional administration of the Khasi is managed by the adult male members of the community through the dorbar, the council which is found at four different levels. At the primary level is the Dorbar Kur, the clan council, which manages the domestic affairs of the clan. It is headed by the Rangbah Kur, the clan elder, who is the most senior maternal uncle, the Kni Rangbah (Kharlukhi, 2004). Above the dorbar kur is the Dorbar Shnong, the village council, headed by the Rangbah Shnong, the village headman. This council manages village affairs. In some of the Khasi states, there is a Dorbar Raid, the commune council, which is found at the next level of political organisation above the village dorbar. It looks after inter-village issues concerning the Khasi villages which make up the Raid, that is, the commune. The Dorbar Hima, the state council exists at the highest level of the political organisation that developed among the Khasi and Jaintia people. It is headed by a ruler called by various names in different Khasi states: Syiem, Lyngdoh, Sirdar and Wahadadar (Bareh, 1997: 246). In all of these traditional political institutions women have no role especially as the head. It may be noted that there are some Khasi clans that allow women to participate in the clan’s dorbar but the major decisions are decided by the adult males under the headship of the rangbah kur. Therefore their participation in the traditional decisionmaking body, the dorbar is considered irrelevant and their representation in the modern political institutions is also insignificant. Considering the role of the Khasi women Nongbri states that,


Chapter Eleven in the concept of the Khasi, women are basically producers whose functions are to produce children for continuity of the family and the clan and to look after the wellbeing of the household. In keeping with this ideology women are traditionally excluded from participation in politics… (2005: 19)

An overview of women’s representation in the state legislature and the autonomous district councils shows it has been very low with not more than three women getting elected to the State Legislative Assembly and/or Autonomous District Council every election. There was a slight increase in the number of women candidates in the 2013 Meghalaya Legislative Assembly election. There were 27 women in the fray who contested the election and for the first time, four women were elected to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly (Note 5). There has been a shift in power with women political leaders in the state legislature in the present term 20132018 (Note 6). It was observed that “after a long while we can proudly say that matrilineal Meghalaya which used to be scoffed at and scorned by scholars and researchers for its ambivalence (matriliny with few or no woman wielding political power) is now behaving true to form” (Mukhim, 2015).

The Dorbar in West Khasi Hills: A Case Study of Pyndemumiong and Thangmaw Villages As discussed, the Khasi have been practising grassroots democracy for centuries through the dorbar (the village council). The salient features of the dorbar shnong are direct democracy in form and spirit where elections to the office of the headman and office bearers are directly held by the male members at the village council meeting. Decisions are arrived at through consensus and a majority voice vote and the dorbar acts as a central decision-making body. By tradition it was considered a taboo for women to appear in the dorbar and therefore, it assumes the character of a male-centric assembly. Recently, there have been developments in Khasi society, facilitated through government programmes and schemes, which have enabled Khasi women to voice their rights and improve their status. This paper looks at the position of women in the dorbar or village council amidst such developments. Based on the female literacy rate of the 2001 census, two areas of Mairang, a town located in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, have been selected for the purpose of the study. One is an urban locality (Pyndemumiong) in Mairang town while the other is a village (Thangmaw Shiap Jarain) under the Mairang Block. The West Khasi Hills district was

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


carved out of the erstwhile Khasi Hills District on October 28, 1976. It is divided into four blocks; Mairang, Mawthadraishan, Mawshynrut and Nongstoin (Nongstoin is the district headquarters). Mairang is a town located about 40 kms from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Pyndemumiong of Mairang represents the urban area while Thangmaw Jarain, a village under the Mairang block, is the rural area. The inclusion of rural and urban areas enables a comparison between the status of the Khasi women in the rural and urban areas of these two places. According to the 2001 census the female literacy rate of the West Khasi Hills District was 64 per cent which has the closer percentage to that of the total female literacy rate of the Khasi Hills with 67 per cent. The same procedure was followed while selecting the Mairang block where the female literacy rate was 61 per cent which is a closer percentage to that of the total female literacy rate of West Khasi Hills with 64 per cent. Accordingly, Mairang block (Ward 1) has the same percentage of female literacy rate as that of the Mairang urban area while Thangmaw Jarain village has 57 per cent of the female literacy rate which is a closer percentage to that of the rural Mairang which has 58 per cent of the female literacy rate. Hence, Pyndemumiong of Mairang was selected as the urban area and Thangmaw Jarain village as the rural area for the field study in the Khasi Hills. The interview method was used for collecting primary data. Interviews were conducted with the Sordar (headman) and the leaders of the women’s organisation of the two villages. This paper is based on the survey conducted in the year 2009. A comparative study has also been made for 2009 and 2016 in the study area.

Composition and Functions of the Thangmaw and Pyndemumiong Dorbars Thangmaw dorbar is composed only of male members. It comprises of the sordar (village headman), the executive committee (office bearers) and the residents of Thangmaw village. It has been made compulsory for all the boys above 18 years to enrol their names with the village headman and to be members of the village dorbar. Their presence in the dorbar is considered important and those who do not attend dorbar meetings without prior information are penalised by the dorbar. Absentees have to pay a fine as fixed by the dorbar and the amount is normally equal to a day’s labour wage. Interestingly, the amount for daily wages has been fixed by the dorbar which is rupees 350 per day at present. However, students are not allowed to be part of the dorbar as they are still under the care of their parents. The dorbar classifies them as children who have not


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yet attained an independent mind to participate in council matters. But those who are students and working at the same time are allowed to be members as they are considered to be mature and responsible like other adult males. The Thangmaw dorbar represents the highest administrative body in the village. Any issue that concerns the development or security of the village will be decided by the dorbar. However the sordar cannot take decisions alone but does so with the approval of his executive committee. Women have no part to play in the dorbar meetings. The dorbar is purely a male-dominated traditional administrative institution. Considering the eligibility criteria of the members of the dorbar, it clearly shows that there is discrimination against women. It also indicates that even school drop-out boys can make important decisions that are considered just as valid as those made by elderly women. This practice shows that women are treated on a par with boys who are below the age of 18 years. Despite the existence of a women’s organisation in Thangmaw, the Seng Kynthei Thangmaw, all decisions related to this organisation are taken by the dorbar (Note 7). All decisions of the Seng Kynthei Thangmaw are decided by the village dorbar. During my fieldwork in 2009 I noticed that the residents of Thangmaw village were hesitant about my house visits to conduct interviews. After completing two days of interviews with the women, there appeared to develop some misunderstanding and distrust about my research activities. I then approached the sordar with a request to provide me with the names of women leaders so that I could speak to them and make them understand the objectives of my research. Having been provided this information I went to meet the President and Secretary of the Seng Kynthei. Surprisingly, they were unaware of the designations given to them, as their appointments were made by the dorbar without their knowledge. Interestingly, in an interview conducted with the President of the Seng Kynthei Thangmaw in March 2016 (which was five years after my first visit to the area) she narrated that though the organisation was formed in the year 2010 (after my fieldwork), it only started to function in the year 2014. When asked about her appointment, the President replied that the appointment of the women organisation leaders was made by the dorbar and thereafter, the concerned office bearers were informed about their designations as assigned to them by the dorbar. At present there are twenty-five members in this women’s organisation. The Seng Kynthei Thangmaw works together with the village defence party (VDP) of the village and carries out cleanliness and sanitation activities in different localities of the village. The Seng Kynthei Thangmaw has its own executive committee which consists of executive members while the

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


general committee consists of all the women in the village. Usually after their general committee meetings, a report is prepared and sent to the village dorbar. This report, containing a summary of the activities of the Seng Kynthei Thangmaw, is read out at the dorbar in their absence. In other words, the women’s organisation is accountable to the dorbar for all its activities. In a discussion with the sordar of the village, he explained that the leaders of the women’s organisation were appointed by the dorbar and the dorbar had direct supervision over its operation. This action taken by the dorbar concurs with the male-dominated system in the village in spite of the matrilineal system prevailing in Meghalaya. The Mairang Pyndemumiong dorbar is also composed of only adult male members. In an interview conducted recently in March 2016 it was found that there have been no changes made in its composition. The dorbar functions through its various committees with no female representation at all. Some of the committees include the health committee, the sports committee, the village defence party (VDP) committee, water supply committee, electricity committee, development committee, fund-raising committee and agriculture committee. Women are not appointed as members of any of these committees though at one time women from the town were allowed to become members of the village defence party committee. However, this provision was removed as it was considered to be an extra burden for the women to go on night patrol duty in addition to having domestic responsibilities. When asked about the reason why women were not included as committee members, the sordar stated that the decision not to include them in such committees has been the practice for a long time. The headman noted that on some occasions when the cases related to women (especially in cases when women created a nuisance in the village) leaders and members of the women’s organisation are also called upon to take up the case with the dorbar. The Seng Kynthei (women’s organisation) Mairang Pyndemumiong is actively working as an independent body in the locality. It organises its own programmes to upkeep the cleanliness and sanitation of the locality. This women’s organisation works hand in hand with the dorbar shnong for the welfare of the community as a whole. It may be noted that, the Mairang Pyndemumiong women’s organisation empowers the sordar to appoint the President of the organisation. For the most part women do not attend the dorbar meetings except at the time of the felicitation of meritorious students. Usually the general meeting of the dorbar is held once a year and is referred to as the dorbar kut snem (end of year council meeting) where major issues are decided. Women are not allowed to attend this council meeting whereas all male adults must compulsorily attend this meeting. In


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spite of the awareness of women’s emancipation and empowering women as decision-makers, there has been no effort from the side of the dorbar to accommodate women in the dorbar and on its various committees. The sordars of these two areas stated that, they personally do not oppose the participation of women in the dorbar if there is a uniform rule about their participation in the future. This change in perception reflects the impact of modernisation and awareness programmes about the importance of women’s participation in different fields. Despite these impediments to women’s participation in traditional bodies a few changes have taken place in the urban areas of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. The dorbar which was traditionally considered to be the sole arena of the men has now included women on its executive committees. For instance, the women’s organisation of Nongrim Hills (a locality in Shillong) sends two representatives to the executive committee of the dorbar shnong. In the Laithumkhrah dorbar one woman is co-opted by the dorbar and two members of the women’s organisation are represented in the executive committee of the dorbar (Lyngdoh, 1998: 8899). This is a good initiative taken by these urban localities which deserves to be appreciated. Despite these recent developments the tradition of excluding women from participating in the dorbar of the Khasi is still deeply rooted in the society and it is still considered a taboo to have women as decision-makers. Recently, the Village Administration Bill (VAB) 2015 prepared by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) has redefined the powers and functions of these traditional bodies. It provides scope for female representation at all levels of decisionmaking by stipulating female representation in the dorbar. If the bill is approved it would enhance women’s participation in the traditional dorbar with political rights such as the right to vote as well as the right to be voted in.

Conclusion From the discussion on the composition and function of the village dorbar it can be stated that there is no room for women in the traditional village or town administration. Though the traditional village council is known to possess a democratic pattern of administration, it has been completely dominated by the Khasi men. This clearly demonstrates that custom and tradition do not favour women to be a part of the decisionmaking body. Hamlet Bareh wrote,

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


Village has its own Dorbar which holds frequent sessions in which all male adult residents ought to attend…absentees were fined or were compelled from their habitation… (Bareh, 1997: 110)

This demonstrates the compulsory participation of the adult male members in the decision-making process and the exclusion of women. The socialisation process passed on from one generation to the next has had an impact on the status of both men and women where one is considered superior to the other in terms of decision-making. Referring to the customary law and women in North East India, Pamei states that even the customary laws that are set for the welfare of the society have gender biases as women are treated as inferior to men (2014: 60). The perceived uplifting matrilineal system practised in Meghalaya should not overshadow the problems faced by women. Crimes committed against women whether in the private or public domain are other societal issues that need to be addressed by decision-making bodies. Women’s empowerment should start at the grassroots. One of the reasons for the marginal representation of women is that they lack political training as tradition restricts women from taking part in traditional decision-making bodies. Equal opportunities for both men and women need to be realised by the society and the legislative bodies to ensure human development. Grassroots democracy is more meaningful when both men and women enjoy the liberty to think and progress. Comparatively, women are biologically weaker than men but not in terms of intellect. If tradition debars women from attending the dorbar on the assumption that they are incompetent and incapable of thinking like men, it reflects that the former lack the opportunity to achieve their potential. To offer some suggestions, the Pyndemumiong dorbar could initiate the setting up of a special committee for the women of the village which will address all issues concerning the women and girls of the locality. The prompt approval of the Village Administration Bill 2015 would ensure the equal participation of women in the dorbar and alter the gender and power equations in society. It is expected that once the Village Administration Bill 2015 becomes an Act, it will improve the political status of women not only in Thangmaw and Pyndemumioing but also of the Khasi women in other parts of the scheduled areas as well.


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Notes 1. It may be noted that women’s representation in the legislatures in India is still very low. The maximum number of women Cabinet Ministers was three out of thirty Cabinet Ministers in 2001 and five out of thirty-five Cabinet Ministers in 2009. The presence of women in Lok Sabha was only 7.36 per cent in 1996, 8.1 per cent in 1998, 9 per cent in 1999, 8.3 per cent in 2004 and 10.9 per cent in 2009 (Colbert, 2010). There was an increase in percentage in 2009 but it was insignificant. 2. The SRT favours a patriarchal society as it is influenced by patriarchal values. The imminent social concern is that if the children take their father’s surname such a change will lead to serious alterations in the social structure of Khasi society. 3. This view was expressed by Mrs. Theilin Phanbuh, Chairperson of Meghalaya State Commission for Women on International Women’s day (The Shillong Times, March 8, 2016). 4. Today there are instances where well-to-do parents share ancestral property among both sons and daughters though the largest share belongs to the youngest daughter. In fact, it largely depends on the parent’s property and the economic conditions of the family. 5. As of 2016 there are five women MLAs. The fifth woman Mrs. Bluebell Sangma was elected at the bye-election held in May 2015 from Chokpot constituency in South Garo Hills district following the death of the sitting MLA. 6. Out of the five elected women, three of them have been elected for the third time. Three women legislators have also been appointed as ministers–– Ampareen Lyngdoh appointed Minister in charge of Urban Affairs, Municipal Administration and Labour; Deborah Marak appointed Minister in charge of Social Welfare, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary, Printing & Stationery and Secretariat Administration Department; Roshan Warjri appointed Minister in charge of Home. Roshan Warjri is the first woman Home Minister in North East India and the second in India. 7. Interview with the former President of the Thangmaw Women Organisation.

References Bareh, Hamlet. 1997 (reprint). History and Culture of the Khasi People. Delhi: Spectrum Publications. Colbert, Irin. 2010. Women and Politics in Mizoram: an In-depth Study. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Department of Political Science, School of Social Science. Mizoram: Mizoram University. Gassah, L. S. 2005. “Traditional System of Governance among the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos of Meghalaya and the changes thereof”. In C.

Women’s Participation in the Dorbar


Joshua Thomas (ed.) Polity and Economy: Agenda for Contemporary North East India. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Gurdon, P. R. T. 2010. The Khasis. New Delhi: Akansha Publishing House. Kharlukhi, Bajubon R. 2004. “Ki Jait Dorbar Bapher ha ki Hima Khasi Bad ka Rukom Pynlong bad Pyniaid ia ki ha ki por Hyndai.” Paper presented at the Seminar on Ki Hima Khasi Mynshwa, Mynta bad Lashai. Shillong: Hynniew Trep Endeavour Society. Lyngdoh, M. P. R. 1998. “Women’s Movement in Meghalaya with reference to some selected women’s organizations”. In M. N. Karna (ed.) Social Movements in North East India. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. Mawkhroh, Ibabitnam. 2013. “Political Socialisation and Traditional Culture: A study of its impact on the Political Participation of Women in Meghalaya”. Contemporary Social Scientist Journal, Volume III. Mukhim, Patricia. “Women MLAs scale new heights in matrilineal Meghalaya”. The Shillong Times. March 13, 2015. Nongbri, Tiplut. 2003. “Gender and the Khasi Family Structure: the Meghalaya Succession to Self-acquired Property Act, 1984”. In Sharmila Rege (ed.) Sociology of Gender: The Challenge of Feminist Sociological Knowledge. New Delhi: Sage Publications India. —. 2005. Gender Matriliny and Entrepreneurship: The Khasis of NorthEast India. New Delhi: Zubaan. Rai, Praveen. 2011. “Electoral Participation of Women in India, key determinants barrier”. Economic & Political Weekly Vol. XLVI No. 3, January 15. Singh, Kynpham. 1985. “Syiems and Durbars in Khasi Polity”. In S. K. Chattopadhyay (ed.) Tribal Institutions of Meghalaya. Guwahati: Spectrum Publications. Srivastava Devyani. 2015. Rough Roads to Equality: Women Police in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative.

Internet Pamei, Roselima Kamei. 2014. “Customary Law and Women in North East India”. International Research Journal of Social Sciences. Vol. 3 (9). Accessed through on February 22, 2016. Meghalaya Police: Crime Statistics. Accessed through


Chapter Eleven on March 12, 2016. “Rape highest Reported Crime in Matrilineal Meghalaya”. Accessed through .html on March 12, 2016. Ropmay, Amarantha Donna. 2014. “Crime against Women in Matrilineal Meghalaya. A forensic Medical Perspective”. Journal of the Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine. October-December, Vol. 36. No. 4. Accessed through on March 12, 2016.


Introduction In the post-liberalisation period the discussion on institutional legitimacy has a high degree of importance. Questions are frequently asked whether the institutions of public importance do really matter for the smooth functioning of democracy. The answer would be that institutions are important because they act as the wheels of democracy. The majority of the institutions in a parliamentary democracy such as India provide a space for the citizens to at least come and participate in the democratic process of the country. A democracy can be termed as smooth, only if it allows the required space for the various institutions in it to function legitimately. Thus, whether it is the pre- or post-liberalisation era the fact remains that the importance of institutions, where the masses can participate in a healthy democracy, cannot be undermined. The continuity and stability of institutions are essential to the health and wellbeing of the society. The open and norm-based functioning institutions are necessary for the success of democracy. Javeed Alam points out that there is a strong assumption about the fact that there is a direct and straightforward relation between the state of institutions and the functioning and legitimacy of democracy. He also says that the relation between the two in India is much more complex than that of other countries. Public institutions in India appear to be in disarray but the fact remains that democracy in India has proved to be both resilient and functional (2009: 1).


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It is necessary to radically alter the perspectives common to both liberal theories and democratic thought, that the source of legitimacy is not the pre-determined will of the individuals, but rather the process of its formation is deliberation itself. An individual’s liberty consists first of all in being able to arrive at a decision by a process of research and comparison among various solutions. As political decisions are characteristically imposed on all, it seems reasonable to seek, as an essential condition for legitimacy, the deliberation of all or, more precisely, the right of all to participate in deliberation (Manin, 1998: 501). This is what the public institutions should provide to the masses: a space for participation and deliberation which will bring legitimacy to the institutions. In India the citizens are allowed to participate (voting) but how far they are allowed to deliberate is questionable. Today the institutions in a democracy are intricately related with the concept of governance. Institutions are judged not only on the basis of people’s participation or deliberation, but also on how citizen-friendly they are. Governance simply means the ability of the institutions to make use of the available resources for the betterment/uplifting of a country/state (Mathur, 2008: 4). It is widely agreed that the lack of good governance hurts the poor. But it is contended that democracy is inherently linked to good governance and that both reinforce each other. It follows therefore that democracy helps in poverty reduction by promoting good governance (Rao, 2004: 15). The success of democracy would be judged on how far the institutions under it make good governance possible. Thus the role of institutions in the process of proper governance can hardly be undermined. A very important aspect of governance is that the various institutions come together and work for the development of the state. According to Stoker governance has several components: 1. Governance refers to a complex set of institutions and actors that are drawn from but also beyond the government; 2. Governance recognises the blurring of boundaries and responsibilities for tackling social and economic issues; 3. Governance identifies the power dependence involved in the relationship between institutions involved in collective action; 4. Governance recognises the capacity to get things done which does not rest on the power of the government to command or lose its authority. It sees government as able to use new tools and techniques to steer and guide (Mathur, op. cit.: 5).

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Indian democracy provides for a unique state of affairs in which institutions of public interest have played a vital role over more than half a decade but have also been at disarray for a good amount of time. The basis of democratic politics has been shaken time and again, for instance, the authoritarian politics during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi and the allegations of corruption that have severely affected our institutions for a very long period of time, are among some of the problems that have affected the body politic of India. In spite of such problems, democracy in India has proved to be both resilient and functional. The people of the country have always put their faith in the institutions of democracy, its working and functioning. It is in the above context that it becomes important to discuss the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in the State of Meghalaya. There is a debate in the State of Meghalaya about the role and functions of the ADCs in the ever-changing contemporary world. There is also an emerging view that the ADCs have become redundant and should be done away with. As the saying goes, there cannot be smoke without fire, so also there cannot be such observations without genuine problems in the functioning of the ADCs of Meghalaya.

The Background When India attained its independence in 1947 and adopted its Constitution in 1950, it envisaged strong democratic institutions at grass roots level, including similar democratic institutions for conducting the day-to-day affairs of the tribal communities. Consequently, democratic decentralisation and the establishment of Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) became one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. However, in the case of the Tribal Areas, especially those in North-East India, there are certain special provisions provided in the Constitution itself. The framers of the Indian Constitution also recognised the necessity of a separate political and administrative structure for the hill tribal areas of the erstwhile State of Assam by enacting the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India under Articles 244(2) and 275(1). In doing so, they were guided broadly speaking by three major considerations: 1. The necessity to maintain the distinct customs, socio-economic and political culture of the tribal people of the region and to ensure autonomy of the tribal people and to preserve their identities;


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2. The necessity to prevent their economic, social and political exploitation by the more advanced neighbouring people of the plains; and 3. To allow the tribal people to develop and administer themselves according to their own genius. The constitutional provisions therefore sought to maintain and safeguard the tribal customs, traditions, culture, language, social and traditional councils/institutions and courts, and to secure the autonomy of the districts which are inhabited by fairly homogenous groups of tribal communities (Gassah, 1997: 4).

The Bordoloi Sub-Committee It was rather fortunate for the tribal areas of North-East India because the Interim Government of India (which was set up in 1947) could realise the critical situation and the political aspirations of the people of the hill areas/districts of the then composite State of Assam. The Interim Government also showed some kind of positive interest in the problems of the tribal areas of North-East India. It wanted to look into their grievances and affairs so as to enable them to participate in policy- and decisionmaking processes and manage their affairs according to their “genius” and pertaining to their welfare. Against this background, the Interim Government appointed a Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly known as the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Committee, under the chairmanship of Gopinath Bordoloi, the then Chief Minister of Assam. Other persons who acted as full members of the Committee were J. J. M. Nichols Roy, Rup Nath Brahma, A. V. Thakkar and Mayang Nokcha, who was later replaced by Aliba Imti. This SubCommittee was popularly known as the Bordoloi Sub-Committee and visited a number of the hill districts such as the Lushai Hills District, the North Cachar Hills Sub-Division, the Mikir Hills and the Naga Hills District. The Committee could not visit the Garo Hills on account of bad weather conditions and the Jowai sub-division of the Khasi Hills District could also not be visited for the same reason. However the representatives of these two areas were examined at Gauhati (Hansaria, 2005: 253). The Committee studied the prevailing conditions and the existing traditional political systems/institutions of the various places visited by the team. In its Report, the Bordoloi Sub-Committee, broadly speaking, took three factors into consideration while proposing a separate scheme of administration for the tribal areas of North-East India.These factors are:

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1. The distinct social customs and tribal organisations of the different tribal communities as well as their religious beliefs; 2. The exploitation by the people of the plains on account of the latter’s superior organisation and experience of business; and 3. The fear that unless suitable financial provisions were made, or powers were conferred upon the local councils themselves, the Provincial Government might not, due to the pressure of the people of the plains, set apart adequate funds for the development of the tribal areas. The scheme it recommended led to the setting up of the Autonomous District Councils. The Sub-Committee further felt that the assimilation of the people of the tribal areas with the rest of the country would not take place by the sudden breaking up of the tribal institutions. What was required was the evolution of growth on the old foundations. This meant that the evolution should come, as far as possible from the tribals themselves and it was equally clear that contact with outside institutions was necessary, though not in a compelling way. To fulfill the terms of reference given to the Sub-Committee, it visited the tribal areas of the hill districts of the then composite State of Assam and interacted with the representatives and heads of the different traditional institutions in order to enable it to formulate a model administrative set-up for these areas within the State of Assam. When the members of the Sub-Committee studied the problems and issues involving the administration of the tribal areas and their people, it realised that these areas needed protection and safeguards so that they might be able to protect and preserve their way of life and at the same time participate in the political life of the country along with others. The members of the Sub-Committee also noted the existence and continuation of the traditional tribal self-governing bodies/institutions which functioned more or less democratically and settled their disputes in accordance with their own traditions, customs and usages of the land. The Sub-Committee therefore sought to evolve a system by which it would be possible to remove the apprehensions of the tribal people of the region, simple and backward as they were, so that they might not be exploited, subjugated and oppressed by the more advanced people who were their nearest neighbours (Hansaria, op. cit.: 253). The recommendations of the Bordoloi Sub-Committee were well debated and discussed by the members of the Constituent Assembly in 1949. It was quite unfortunate that had it not been for the constructive and strong defensive stand and positive approach taken by tribal leaders like B. R. Ambedkar, J. J. M. Nichols-Roy, and Jaipal Singh as well as Gopinath


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Bordoloi himself, the negative stand and indifferent attitude shown by many non-tribal members of the Constituent Assembly would not have allowed the Sixth Schedule to see the light of day. Mention may be made especially on the negative stand and indifferent attitude of the two members from Assam, Kuladhar Chaliha and Rohini Kumar Choudhury, towards the issue of the hill areas’ autonomy during the course of the discussion in the Constituent Assembly. Such an indifferent attitude and detestation towards the hill areas’ autonomy by the two leaders could be clearly understood through their expressed opinions while taking part in the Constituent Assembly Debates (dated 5 to 7 September 1949) relating to the draft provisions of the Sixth Schedule put forward by the Bordoloi Sub-Committee. However all such negative views were finally rejected by the Constituent Assembly (Ibid.: 253). The recommendations of the Bordoloi Sub-Committee were incorporated in the Sixth Schedule to the Indian Constitution. The idea behind the Sixth Schedule was to provide the tribal people with a simple and inexpensive administration of their own, so that they could safeguard their own customs, traditions, culture, language, etc., and to provide them with maximum autonomy in the management of their tribal affairs. The Bordoloi Sub-Committee in particular, appreciated that the tribal people were particularly sensitive about their lands, forests, traditional system of justice and social customs. Most of the recommendations of the Bordoloi SubCommittee were accepted. This therefore led to the incorporation of the Sixth Schedule into the Indian Constitution under Articles 244(2) and 275(1) and provided for the constitution of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in certain hill districts of the then composite/undivided State of Assam. ADCs were introduced in certain hill districts (except in the Naga Hills district) in 1952. Subsequently, the following ADCs were set up: the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, the North Cachar Hills Autonomous District Council, the Mikir Hills Autonomous District Council and the Lushai Hills Autonomous District Council. The Jowai Autonomous District Council (which was subsequently renamed as the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council) was set up on the 23 November 1964, but it became fully functional only in the year 1967 (Gassah, 1997).

The Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya Autonomous District Councils are provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution to the people of the hill areas in North-East India. In Meghalaya, the Autonomous District Councils have been in

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existence for a period of more than half a century. The main functions of these institutions are to protect, promote and propagate the indigenous culture/traditions of the tribal people of Meghalaya. Over a period of time these institutions have also taken up some development functions but with a lesser degree of success. The ADCs have withstood the forces that have come along with the process of modernisation (influenced by westernisation) and have existed in spite of many odds. But today, the very existence of these institutions is at stake. There are questions concerning the very existence and continuation of these institutions and hence there is a need to review and re-examine the functioning of these institutions. The very first problem that one encounters while talking about the ADC is that its role and function has almost been the same over the last fifty years. The powers and functions of the ADCs in Meghalaya have more or less remained the same since their inception in 1952. In Meghalaya there has been an emerging opinion that the ADCs are becoming redundant and that they do not play any important role especially in terms of development. But the question is how the ADCs will play an important role when they do not have an adequate amount of power and functions. The Sixth Schedule had initially provided for equal power and functions for the ADCs. But today almost all the existing ADCs except those in Meghalaya have different amounts of power and functions according to their needs and conditions. For instance in Assam, the state government has been pro-active towards the needs of the ADCs and hence has increased the power and functions of some of the ADCs through necessary amendments, whereas the government in Meghalaya has been keeping the ADCs under tight control by restricting them to play a role only in respect of those provisions provided originally by the Sixth Schedule and by not allowing them any greater area beyond the provisions provided by the Sixth Schedule (NEHU Report, 2009: 43). The ADCs were originally meant to protect the smaller tribal communities under the erstwhile composite State of Assam and there was no doubt that with the formation of the State of Meghalaya the importance of the three ADCs would be slightly relegated to the background. In fact there had been suggestions that in view of a State government being established which is predominantly represented by the tribal leaders, there was no need for the ADCs in Meghalaya for the dominant majority of the population, that is, the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos. But one has to remember that no doubt the ADCs in Meghalaya exist for the dominant majority but in the absence of Panchayati Raj institutions, the ADCs in Meghalaya can play an important role at the grassroots. Today the State does not have any constitutionally recognised lower level institutions


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which can play an important role in grassroots democracy. Hence the ADCs could have played an important role in lieu of the Panchayati Raj institutions. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily had made suggestions to abolish the ADCs in Meghalaya. The Vision 2020 document of the North Eastern Council had also made similar suggestions of abolishing the ADCs. However, before making such sweeping suggestions a study could have been made on how to utilise the ADCs in Meghalaya for positive development. The need is not to abolish the ADCs which have been standing tall for more than half a century, but to streamline and reform them in line with the needs of the time. The question of bringing in the Panchayati Raj system in Meghalaya does not and cannot arise because the State has its own traditional institutions and the ADCs can fill this gap along with the traditional institutions. According to the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, there is a serious crisis in governance in Meghalaya as there are three different institutions, viz., the State Government, the ADCs and traditional institutions which are having clashes of interest with each other (Consultation Paper, 2001: 25). The people of Meghalaya especially the rural poor have been bereft of proper governance in view of the institutional crisis in the State. In fact, the main tussle for power and control over resources seems to be between the tribal organisations that have been designated by the Constitution of India as “traditional institutions” and the constitutionally elected bodies. In this tug-of-war it is the common citizens who suffer and are deprived access to basic amenities (Sharma, 2004: 1). Had there been proper cooperation between these two institutions, effective governance could have been possible at the grassroots level. Stoker observed that there is governance when the functioning of the institutions in a web of relationships leads to development. But this is not happening because there is too much of an over-lapping of powers and internal bickering among the various institutions of governance. The end result is that the entire development of the State takes a beating. In fact in Meghalaya, the state government keeps the ADCs in tight check because the state legislature has the power to override the decisions of the ADCs vide Paragraph 12A of the Sixth Schedule. When the State of Meghalaya was formed, a new paragraph (Para. 12A) was inserted in the Sixth Schedule. It states that: Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, if any provision of a law made by a District Council in the State of Meghalaya with respect to any matter specified in sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 3 of the Schedule or if any provision of any regulation made by a District Council….in the State under Para. 8 or Para. 10 of the Schedule, is repugnant to any provision of

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a law made by the legislature of the state of Meghalaya with respect to that matter , then the law or regulation made by the District Council or as the case may be……whether made before or after the law made by the legislature of the State of Meghalaya, shall to the extent of repugnancy, be void and the law made by the Legislature of the State of Meghalaya shall prevail. (Hansaria, op. cit.: 94)

Thus paragraph 12A empowers the laws of the State government to override the laws passed by the ADCs “even in matters allotted to the District Council by the Constitution of the country”. There have been many occasions when the state government has undermined the importance of the ADCs to the extent of virtually making them nonentities in the process of the development of the State. Hence, to bring an amount of autonomy to the ADCs of Meghalaya, this paragraph 12A may perhaps be modified to bring a balance in the relationship between the ADCs and the State Legislature. The problem of financial shortages for development programmes also does not augur well for the ADCs in Meghalaya. The ADCs unlike the Panchayati Raj institutions do not get any direct funds from the Centre, and whatever they get is routed through the state government, hence making the ADCs heavily dependent on the State government for their financial status. Herein lies a major hindrance for the ADCs; they cannot undertake any developmental activities as they have to wait for the state government to release the required money for the same. The state government on its part takes its own time to release such funds and keeps the ADCs under unnecessary control. The problem becomes more acute when there are two different political parties sitting in the state government and the ADCs. The ruling party in the state government would always create unnecessary hurdles for the ADCs and would not see eye to eye in matters that require the coordination of both the institutions. The Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya today are facing serious problems. One of the reasons is their own lackadaisical approach to various issues. The ADCs started facing an “identity crisis” as soon as the State of Meghalaya was formed. The ADCs were originally meant for the minorities (indigenous tribals) but after the formation of the State, the communities they were representing no longer remained minorities but became the majority in Meghalaya. So the question was, whose interests were the ADCs representing after 1972? Was it the minorities or the majorities? The answer would obviously be the majority. Thus the ADCs should have changed their role and functions according to the needs of time, but they never showed the spirit. They could have worked as a constitutional body which could have strengthened grassroots level


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democracy and development. If one goes through the major amendments of the ADCs it becomes clear that they have been concerned only with issues such as increases in salary and perks and not many amendments are to be found which bring development powers for the ADCs. Thus there is no doubt that ADCs in Meghalaya are passing through a very difficult phase but they can still be a force to be reckoned with provided there are some major changes in the entire structure of the ADCs. The beauty of a democratic state is that it allows institutions such a space to function which no other form of state will allow. Hence it becomes very important that the ADCs also start showing some zeal and interest to project themselves as vibrant institutions of democracy. For democracy to function smoothly the public institutions have to come together irrespective of their differences and play a proper role in the governance of the state.

The Relationship between the Autonomous District Councils and the Traditional Institutions Since India’s independence the powers of the traditional chiefs have been threatened by the new administrative set-up, more so with the coming of the Autonomous District Councils under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution in 1952. The Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution has a tremendous effect on the power and functions of the traditional institutions and chiefships in the hill areas of North East India where such a Council was introduced (Hansaria, 2005). The introduction of the Sixth Schedule did not bring improvements in the power and functions or the status and position of the traditional chiefs. On the contrary the new power structure has radically reduced the power of the chiefs. The United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headmen) Act, 1959 empowered the Executive Committee of the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (UKJHADC) not only to appoint the Chiefs and Headmen, but also to remove and suspend the same if in its opinion these incumbents violated the terms and conditions of their appointment. The relationship between the two was all along and is still under strain (Gassah, 1997). Many communities of North East India have been demanding the constitutional recognition of their traditional institutions, which in the contemporary sense, are not democratic because in most cases women are not permitted to participate and certain public offices are restricted only to certain clans of certain tribes. Often, organisations

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making such demands and the forces behind them do not appear to understand the difference between their conception of democracy and the democracy introduced by the Constitution of India. The prevalence of traditional tribal values and conflict with the values of modern democracies become obvious in such demands (Baruah, 2003: 15). The traditional institutions of Meghalaya have been affected by the values of the democratic system introduced by the Constitution of India. The basic conflict between the ADC of Khasi Hills (that is, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council––KHADC) and the traditional chiefs and institutions can be traced back to the reactions over the Principal Act of 1959, that is, the Act on the Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headmen, 1959, and its subsequent amendments. It seems that with this Act in hand the KHADC is well-armed with the constitutional provisions on how to deal with and treat the traditional chiefs and other institutions. On the basis of this Act and the provisions and conditions laid down by it from time to time during the course of its amendments, the control of the KHADC over the traditional institutions has strengthened. This issue has given rise to ill-feeling, distrust and legal battles between the two authorities (Gassah, 2006: 31). The conflict between the KHADC and the traditional institutions reached such heights that in December 2000, the Federation of the Khasi States was revived. There were many disturbing situations in the relationship between the KHADC and the traditional chiefs and institutions in Khasi Hills, especially in matters involving the relationship between the Syiem of Hima Mylliem and the KHADC. Thus the revival of the Federation of the Khasi States movement in 2000 started by demanding constitutional status for the traditional institutions without removing the Sixth Schedule from the Khasi Hills (Gassah, op.cit.: 31). At present many of the development works are affected because in the State of Meghalaya land is owned by the community over which the Syiem and the Himas have a greater say, but ever since the start of the problem between the ADCs and the traditional institutions, the traditional chiefs have wanted a greater say over matters affecting land ownership and land sale and the KHADC has found it difficult to resolve the deadlock between the traditional institutions, the State Government and also within the District Council itself.

The Relationship between the Autonomous District Councils and the State Government The relationship between the State government and the Autonomous District Councils has always been a thorny one. The biggest problem


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between the two is the lack of cooperation. The State has shown a very negligent approach towards the Autonomous District Councils. In fact, by using Paragraph 12 A, the State Government has for most of the time undermined the authority of the Autonomous District Councils. An interesting issue between the State Government and the Autonomous District Councils is that of the overlapping of their powers and functions. An observation of the functions allotted to the Autonomous District Councils by the Sixth Schedule and also the functions of the State Government under the State List provided by the Constitution under the Seventh Schedule puts forward a picture where both the institutions have powers over the same subject; the best example is that of the management of water resources in the State. It can be seen from empirical evidence that both the State Government and the Autonomous District Councils work in managing water resources and providing the same to the people. In the village of Umjarain in South West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, the villagers pointed out that the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council has taken the lead role in providing the water supply to the people at various places within the village. Now the State Government also has schemes for providing water supply to the rural areas in various villages. Thus both the institutions are working towards the same objective with different approaches and also without cooperating with each other. A very feasible option would be that both of the institutions could come together and cooperate in implementing such a project. It is time that the State Government decentralises some of the functions which belonged to the District Councils as originally provided by the Sixth Schedule to the District Councils, for example, water resources and its management in the rural areas. This overlapping of power and functions between the KHADC and the State Government has severely harmed the interests of the people at the grass roots level who still remain bereft of the basic services. In the other States of India where the Panchayati Raj institutions are functioning, there is a clear demarcation of the power and functions between the States and such institutions. In fact the State plays a supportive role in the implementation of the various development schemes through the Panchayati Raj institutions. This has led to a faster rate of development in the states covered by such a system. The same is not the case with Meghalaya as the State does not have any such constitutional grass roots level institutions. It therefore becomes imperative that the State Government allows the Autonomous District Councils and the traditional bodies a greater role in the entire process of governance and decentralises some of its power and functions to the KHADC and the traditional institutions.

The Constitutional-Traditional Interface


Intervention by the Judiciary At present in the State of Meghalaya, there is literally a “threecornered” contest relating to the institution of the Autonomous District Councils, the traditional bodies and the State Government. This conflict of interest is the direct outcome of the decision of the High Court over the traditional bodies in the State. The High Court of Meghalaya in a verdict on 10 December, 2014 restrained the traditional heads (such as the village headmen) from issuing any certificates to residents within Shillong, such as residential, birth and death certificates. The traditional institutions in Meghalaya have always been involved in issuing certificates with a proper seal and signature, albeit without any legal authority. The High Court put on record that no rule of law had empowered the traditional headmen to issue certificates, permissions and other documents and stated “they are doing these kinds of activities as per their whim and will and they try to run a parallel government” (The Shillong Times, 2014). The intervention of the judiciary in the functioning of traditional institutions is a direct outcome of the failure of the Autonomous District Councils to bring out any legislation to empower the traditional bodies legally since 1952. Prior to the passing of the Village Administration Bill in 2014, the KHADC has not been able to streamline the power and functions of the traditional bodies. This has resulted in some of the traditional heads carrying out their assigned roles and responsibilities in a manner which is not expected of them. The State Government in the meantime decided to pass an Ordinance to empower the traditional heads, but this however was vehemently opposed by the conglomeration of the traditional heads. In fact, the traditional institutions and their heads put more faith in the KHADC and its Village Administration Bill to empower them than in any initiative of the State Government which they viewed as an institution trying to overtake and undermine the age-old powers and functions of traditional bodies. The lesson learned from this administrative anomaly is that the KHADC should have taken the initiative in legalising and codifying the customary laws and practices of the traditional institutions in the absence of which the High Court had to intervene and deliver its verdict restraining the traditional institutions in order to exercise some of their powers and functions.


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Conclusion In conclusion it is therefore felt that there are areas in the traditional institution-Autonomous District Council-state government relationship that require immediate attention: 1. The relationship between the ADCs and the State Government of Meghalaya. This issue may involve such areas of the relationship in terms of the political, executive, legislative/administrative and other related matters; 2. The demand put forward by the ADCs in Meghalaya for direct funding by the central government to help the ADCs in the state to bring socio-economic development down to the grass roots level may also be looked into. It has also been noticed that a few multinational companies (Lafarge), government and non-government agencies (Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. and the International Fund for Agricultural Development) have chosen the State of Meghalaya as an area in which to conduct their operations in diverse development activities. What is important in terms of research is to discover the role and involvement of the ADCs in Meghalaya with such forces and agencies of change. These forces of change also involve within their ambit of activities such controversial issues as land, forest, natural and mineral resources coupled with the question of ownership and management, the right to exploit the resources and other related questions. These issues therefore necessitate the examination of the power and authority of the ADCs vis-a-vis that of the State Government. The ADCs in Meghalaya have every now and then complained of the delay in getting the assent of the Governor of the State to many of the Bills prepared and sent to him. This therefore calls for an immediate assessment of the role of the State Governor in these matters and his relationship with the authorities of the ADCs in the State. Lastly, it is time that the State Government and the Autonomous District Councils started to cooperate with each other and make use of the available resources in the State for the all-round development of the State and help in ushering in proper governance for all.

The Constitutional-Traditional Interface


References Alam, Javeed. 2009. “Institutional Infirmities and Democratic Resilience”. Man and Society: A Journal for North East Studies Vol. VI. Shillong: Indian Council of Social Science Research: North Eastern Regional Centre. Baruah, A. K. 2003. “Tribal Traditions and Crisis of Governance in North East India, with special reference to Meghalaya”. Crisis States Programme. Working Paper No. 22. London: London School of Economics. Elster, J. (ed.). 1998. Deliberative Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Gassah, L. S. (ed.). 1997. The Autonomous District Councils. New Delhi: Omsons Publications. Gassah, L. S. 1998. Traditional Institutions of Meghalaya: A Study of the Doloi and its Administration. New Delhi: Regency Publications. —. 2006. “The Autonomous District Council in Khasi Hills: A Critical Analysis (A Mimeograph)”. Shillong: ICSSR. Hansaria, Vijay (ed.). 2005. Justice B. L. Hansaria’s: Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. New Delhi: Universal Law Publishing Company. Karna. M. N., L. S. Gassah and C. J. Thomas (eds.). 1997. Power to the People in Meghalaya. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Leftwich, Adrian. 1993. “Governance, Democracy and Development in the Third World”. Third World Quarterly Vol. 14 No. 3. Manin, B. 1998. “On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation”. In R. Bloug and J. Schwarzmantel (eds.) Democracy: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Mathur, Kuldeep. 2008. From Government to Governance: A Brief Study of the Indian Experience. New Delhi: National Book Trust. National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution: A Consultation Paper. 2001. New Delhi: Vigyan Bhawan Annexe. North Eastern Council: North Eastern Region Vision 2020. New Delhi: Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region. Przewoski, A., Susan C. Stokes and Bernard Manin (eds). 1999. Democracy Accountability and Representation. New York: Cambridge University Press. Rao, S. K. 2004. “Some Reflections on Democracy, Good Governance, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction”. Man and Society: A Journal for North East Studies Vol. I. Shillong: Indian Council of Social Science Research: North Eastern Regional Centre.


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Sharma, Manoroma. 2004. “Critically Assessing Traditions: The Case of Meghalaya”. Crisis States Programme. Working Paper No. 52. London: London School of Economics. Stoker, Gerry. 1998. “Governance as Theory: Five Propositions”. International Social Science Journal Vol. 50 Issue 155. Study on Functioning, Structure of Local Governance in the North Eastern Region with Special Reference to Autonomous District Councils/ Autonomous Regional Councils. 2009. A Report submitted to the Commission on Centre-State Relations, Government of India. Shillong: NEHU. The Shillong Times. December 20, 2014.


Introduction The present “traditional political institutions” in the Khasi Hills were politically independent in the pre-colonial period and semi-independent in the colonial period. The post-colonial arrangement brought about a new nomenclature and institutions far from the ones that existed before. Given the historical experiences, this paper attempts to find out whether these “traditional institutions” have found enough avenues to be given proper constitutional rehabilitation and constitutional accommodation and how these institutions have fared in the operation of the modern state system and in modern conditions. The “State” was the political status of the Khasi “traditional institutions” described in the writings of colonial writers and accepted by the British and the early independent Indian state. Alexander Mackenzie (1979: 233), David Roy (1946: 3) and Joseph Minattur (1955: 27) identify them as a mixture of “aristocratic republics”, “monarchy”, “oligarchy”, “theocracy”, “autocracy” and “democracy”. Later in 1985, Soumen Sen asserts that using the yardstick to determine an institution as a state, “…the KhasiJaintia political organisation…could not be dismissed as a loose tribal polity. We call it a state, though not in the sense of that which is found in the class-society” (1985: 135). The British recognised twenty-five Khasi states––fifteen Syiemships, five Sirdarships, four Lyngdohships and one Wahdadarship. When they annexed these Khasi states, the British did not consolidate their rule. The annexation did not mean the alteration of their political territory and control over land. Though the British brought about changes in these institutions, they did not abolish these states (Chowdhury,


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1998: 297). They did not do away with their hierarchical structure. These states were instead converted to the agencies of political control in the Khasi Hills. Their status as “annexed states” though different from their pre-British existence, was kept unbroken (Syiemlieh, 2006: 131). The Khasi states, though subjugated, had a status of “semi-independent native states” under the British (Karlsson, 2011: 254). The signing of the Instrument of Accession and the Annexed Agreement with the independent Indian state and the creation of the Sixth Schedule under the Indian Constitution completely altered the status of these “states” and marked the beginning of a new era. The status as “state” disappeared from all fields identifying them––whether official or academic or common conceptualisation. Terms like “chieftainships” or “traditional institutions” were used to describe them. This paper examines the relationship between the changing structure and status and the corresponding utility of the traditional institutions in the Khasi Hills. It argues that though these institutions are recognised by the Constitution of India through the mechanism of the Sixth Schedule and the Autonomous District Councils, the way of recognition has not provided enough avenues for their rehabilitation where their utility can be augmented. Adding to it, the confusing structure and the inability of these institutions to adapt to the changing times and needs has contributed to their declining utility. It must be mentioned that though the grass roots political institutions, that is, the Dorbar Shnongs (village councils), constitute a part of the traditional institutions, this analysis centres on the Himas, the apex of the traditional hierarchical political structure. The concept “traditional institution” is employed throughout the paper for convenience in the analysis.

The “Traditional” of Khasi Polity: A Contested Concept Hamlet Bareh presents a picture of the Khasi as a politico-religious group since “pre-historic time”. On the pre-Syiemship “civil organization” that existed, he argues that the two offices of Basanship and Lyngdohship were independent politico-religious entities. These were ruled by the Basan and the Lyngdoh along with the council of the people who legislate and decide on policy making. The combination of some basanships and lyngdohships or some basanships or some lyngdohships subsequently formed the Himas or Syiemships in Khasi Hills (1976: 29-39, 41). Thus, the traditional institutions were constituted by the conglomerations of the basanships and lyngdohships. It followed that the appointment of chiefs rested with the Dorbar (council) of these constituents, the basans and the

Changing Structure, Status and Utility of the Traditional Institutions


lyngdohs, and not with any higher authority like the post-colonial Autonomous District Councils (Karlsson, 2011: 259). There was an upward movement power structure. Since the Syiem/chief was elected/instituted by the council of the basan and the lyngdoh, his authority was nominal to the dorbar of the same. Hence the pre-British chief/Syiem was a “ceremonial head of the State” (Bareh, op. cit.: 43). The British did not recognise the sanctity of the dorbar. For the sake of convenience in their administration, they converted the Syiem to a supreme chief and subverted the dorbar. Thus, the traditional institutions were structurally disconnected from what was “really traditional”. Since then, what is presently perceived as traditional is structurally of recent creation. Though it is built on the past institutional existence, it is the outcome of the colonial policies of the British and the Indian state. Therefore, the claim of the present conglomerate of elite to represent the traditional like the Grand Council of Chiefs is of recent invention (Note 1). The literature hence discussed proves that what is generally interpreted as “traditional” of the present Khasi polity is historically proven to be not “traditional”. The present traditional institutions, though developed on past institutions, do not possess the structure and nature of the same. They have been recreated since the colonial period and strengthened by the Indian state. Despite the existence of such literature, though limited, the general perceptions remain that these institutions are purely “traditional”. The Khasi elite––which includes the traditional chiefs, politicians, ethnic pressure groups and a certain section of academia––has successfully painted a “traditional” tag for these institutions. One of the major problems contributing to the contestations in defining the “traditional” of Khasi polity is the absence of codification of customary law. Many of the interpretations of customary law and tradition are found in the colonial writings of P. R. T. Gurdon and Sir Keith Cantlie which may not be necessarily “genuine” (Karlsson, 2011: 268-269). Despite the call from different quarters like the Report of The Land Reforms Commission for Khasi Hills (1974: i) and many of the educated elite (Phira, 1991: 5-6), no concrete development has been made (Karlsson, 2011: 249). In the absence of generally accepted codified terms, the “traditional” of Khasi polity is subjected to the interpretation and reinterpretation of members of the elite who hold the power to interpret. It is subjected to their self-interested interpretation that disconnects it from the “wisdom of the ancient” or the “accumulated wisdom of the past” (Note 2). The “traditional” therefore, is one of invented or re-invented interpretation. It has a conceptual basis in the past, but reformed to serve the interests of the interpreting elite of the present (Handler and Linnekin,


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1984: 276, 279-280). It is logically arguable that the dissent voiced by the majority of the elite representing the traditional against the codification of the traditional or customary is nothing more than a desperate attempt made by them to maintain the space where they can interpret the same to their advantage. In fact, in the seminar in which this paper was presented, an elder who represented the body of Rangbah Shnongs warned that the codification of customary law would bring distortions and corruption to the same. Apparently, for him, the personal interpretations of people in power are better than the generally accepted codified terms. The Khasi traditional institutions in their present form cannot govern a modernising Khasi society. The un-codified terms have become insufficient and irrelevant in the present society (Note 3).

Internal Conditions: Neither Traditional nor Modern As stated the present structure of the traditional institutions in Khasi Hills is disconnected from the traditional. They are, however, hanging in between, neither connecting to the past, nor adapting to the much required call of the present conditions. Back in 1946, David Roy warned of the danger of the absence of authoritative machinery to check the authority of the head. He wrote, “…if the head of the group is answerable to neither his group nor his chief, his dependence will then be on the votes of his supporters and the cash he possesses” (1946: 4). David R. Syiemlieh made certain recommendations, points on which the traditional institutions could become acceptable to the present age and in the present condition. He argues that it is imperative for these institutions to change and adapt with the changing times. Issues relating to equality before law, accountability and the involvement/representation of women and non-Khasis in these institutions have been raised (2006: 130-133). Other scholars like Bengt Karlsson have resonated with these points, adding to the idea of subjecting the traditional institutions to public scrutiny (2011: 263-264). The internal organisations and way of functioning of the traditional institutions have not elevated them to a necessary level, a status desired and required by the changing times and conditions. It is rightly argued that their principal weakness is their failure to keep abreast of the changing times and conditions and to modernise. They appear to be more like the symbolic institutional remnants of the past than institutions with present public utility. Indeed, the traditional institutions need to evolve, change and adapt to the changing conditions and requirements keeping in mind the public utility. It would be better to do away with them if they remain in the present state (Syiemlieh, 2006: 130-131).

Changing Structure, Status and Utility of the Traditional Institutions


Utility of the Traditional Institutions At the time of independence, David Roy argued that since the importance of military necessity had become redundant (with the annexation of these Khasi states to the British and subsequently to the Indian state), the new responsibilities of these Khasi states would be development of trade, agriculture, exploration of natural resources, manufacture people’s requirements and welfare activities. He argued that the Khasi states cannot fulfill the obligations of a modern state because they are too small in territory, divided and they lack all requirements of the modern times (1946: 4-7). Taking other factors as equally important, it was, therefore, logical for the 25 Khasi states to sign the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement with the Indian government. The issue, however, seems to have taken a different turn with the imposition of the constitutional arrangements keeping these institutions under the Sixth Schedule with the control of the ADCs, the state government and the Governor. The introduction of the Sixth Schedule has not worked in favour of the traditional institutions. It has subjugated them and reduced their status as inferior institutions (Syiemlieh, 2006: 120; Karlsson, 2011: 257). Further, the introduction of the modern administrative machineries that evade these traditional institutions have detached the latter from having any public utility. The utility of these institutions has been replaced by that of the modern state machineries. The deteriorating conditions and utility of these institutions can be partly attributed to the failure of the modern state system to engage them in the administrative process. When a new, more effective, capable, dependable and more acceptable system has emerged, the status and utility of the old, much less effective, less dependable and incapable system deteriorates (Syiemlieh, 2006: 128). Thus, the traditional institutions are currently being criticised as ones that have no or very little public utility.

Basic Areas of Public Priorities Though there are only a few basic areas of public priorities that the traditional institutions can deliver through their limited mechanism, they are still worth considering. First, the “traditional” of Khasi polity is a tag that vehemently seeks to exclusively represent the Khasi ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity and attempt to exclude the others outside the fold. This identity is based on a shared mythical and historical past, yet incapable of incorporating the elements of the same. It is, however, proven that the quest to represent an ethnic community and the wellbeing of its


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members is not reflected in the operation of these institutions. Columnist Patricia Mukhim has time and again reminded us that the traditional institutions have not served the basic requirements of the poor within their jurisdiction; neither the Khasi whom they claim to represent, nor the nonKhasis. She argues that one of the major elements that the traditional institutions can afford to offer to the people is the equal distribution of land or at least the provision of a certain plot of land for the people. This emanates from the fact that traditionally, the traditional institutions had control over Ri Raid (community owned land). It is surprising, however, to learn that approximately five per cent of the people in Meghalaya, including tribals, are landless. Ironically landlessness is increasing in a believed-to-be egalitarian tribal society (Note 4). Secondly, the issue of landlessness among tribals raises questions on the role of the traditional institutions in the management of land. Land in Khasi Hills is broadly divided into two categories––Ri Kynti and Ri Raid. By any definition, ri kynti is privately owned land and the traditional institutions have had nothing much to do with it except in settling disputes between two parties if they arise. Traditionally, the traditional institutions/chiefs were the custodians of ri raid commonly known as community land meant to be available for common use leading to the phenomenon of the non-existence of landlessness among tribals. There have been cases where the sanctity of ri raid has been violated by the custodians. In his study on Maharam Syiemship, Bani Prasanna Misra reveals that the chiefs have been managing and controlling land as if it were their ri kynti (Misra, 1979: 888). This development has led to certain “distortions and corruption” in the management of land (Report, 1974: 27). It has contributed to the rampant conversion of much of the ri raid land into ri kynti land, thus bringing about class polarisation and landlessness (Datta-Ray, 1997: 146-147; Law Research Institute, 1990: 153-157, 158159, 167). There is, therefore, a mismanagement of land by the chiefs that works against the interests of the common people. Further, the authority of traditional institutions in settling disputes over land and the confidence of the people in registering their land in their office have greatly diminished. These have been taken over by the modern state administrative and judicial machineries. Thirdly J. N. Chowdhury argues that earlier the Khasi political institutions had religious utility. The inclusion of the Lyngdoh in the electoral college to elect the Syiems substantiates this argument. Moreover, “[t]he Syiems used to combine both secular and sacerdotal functions and strict conformity, on this part, to the religion of the state was, therefore, rigorously insisted upon” (1998: 261). The religious relevance of the

Changing Structure, Status and Utility of the Traditional Institutions


Syiems, however, has become irrelevant. Internally, the induction of secular elements like the representatives of the dominant non-priestly clans of myntries, village headmen, the bakhraw and the basan has contributed to the end of their religious importance (op. cit.). Externally, the coming of Christianity and the western idea of the separation of the religious and the secular further deteriorated the religious importance of the institutions and the chiefs. Fourthly, the traditional institutions (as mentioned above, read the Hima) have had no role in the developmental and administrative process. The modern state machineries have taken complete responsibility leaving no space for the traditional institutions. David R. Syiemlieh argues that the modern state machineries have failed to recognise the importance of these institutions and to collaborate with them in the process of administration and development (2006: 130-133). Here, the process of rural development is one of the most important areas because most of the traditional institutions exist in rural areas. In a study on Nobosohphoh Syiemship, it was found that the traditional institutions neither initiate any rural development project nor take an intermediary part in the process of rural development initiated by the modern state system (Kharbani, 2015: 360) (see Note 5). Fifthly, H. Bareh argues that the power and functions of the Syiem also include judicial power (1976: 245-247). This has largely diminished. One of the major reasons for the diminishing trend is (as discussed above) that these institutions function on un-codified customary laws which are subjected to personal interpretations. This discourages people from approaching them to settle disputes. The well-established modern state justice delivery mechanism is preferred over the Khasi traditional mechanism.

Conclusion The Khasi traditional institutions have experienced changes since the colonial period. Though the British did not abolish these institutions, their colonial policies caused a massive departure from their traditional character. The constitutional accommodation given to these institutions under the Sixth Schedule is nothing but a continuation of British policy. While the question of them being “traditional” is a subject of debate, it is important to mention that the structures and conditions of these institutions are different from those that existed during the pre-colonial period. It follows that these institutions have been deracinated from their traditional status and position. Though they have found accommodation and


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rehabilitation in the Constitution of India, their status remains subordinated. They have not been provided enough avenues whereby their public utility in the current modern world can be augmented. Given their subordinated position, they have not fared very well in the face of the present modern conditions.

Notes 1. For a further explanation, refer to Fabian Lyngdoh, “The District Council: an avatar of ‘Ka Dorbar-ki Bakhraw’”, The Shillong Times, January 17, 2015; Fabian Lyngdoh, “A frozen dynamic tradition”, The Shillong Times, December 24, 2014. 2. For further reference, see Josef Pieper, “The Concept of Tradition”, The Review of Politics, Vol. 20, No. 4, Issue: I, (Oct., 1958), pp. 477-480; and Geraint Parry, “Tradition, Community and Self-determination”, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct., 1982), pp. 401-402. 3. See Patricia Mukhim, “Future-shocked society: How to cope with tomorrow”, The Shillong Times, January 30, 2015; “Meghalaya in Retrospect”, The Shillong Times, January 16, 2015. 4. To cite some articles written by Patricia Mukhim, “Whose land, whose forests, whose rivers, whose water?” The Shillong Times, January 24, 2014; “Futureshocked society: How to cope with tomorrow”, The Shillong Times, January 30, 2015. 5. While investigating the role of Khasi traditional political institutions in the process of rural development in the Khasi Hills, it is important to make a clear distinction between the role of institutions at the hima level and the village level. The village level institutions have been vaguely accommodated as village administrative units and have been instrumental in the rural development process.

References A Study of the Land System of Meghalaya. 1990. Law Research Institute. Eastern Region. Guwahati: Guwahati High Court. Bareh, Hamlet. 1976. History and Culture of the Khasi People. Shillong: published by the author. Chowdhury, J. N. 1998. The Khasi Canvas: A Cultural and Political History. Shillong: published by the author. Datta-Ray, B. 1997. “Tribal Land Relations––A Transition to Private Ownership in Meghalaya”. In M. C. Behera and N. C. Roy (eds.) Trends in Agrarian Structure in the Hills of North-East India. New Delhi: Commonwealth Publishers.

Changing Structure, Status and Utility of the Traditional Institutions


Handler, Richard, and Jocelyn Linnekin. July to Sept. 1984. “Tradition, Genuine or Spurious”. The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 97, No. 385. Karlsson, Bengt G. 2011. Unruly Hills: Nature and Nation in India’s North-East. New Delhi: Social Science Press. Kharbani, Recordius E. 2015. “Role of Traditional Political Institutions in Rural Development: A Case of Nobosohphoh Syiemship”. In L. S. Gassah and C. J. Thomas (eds.) Democracy and Development in India’s North-East: Challenges and Opportunities. Delhi: Bookwell. Lyngdoh, Fabian. 2014. “A frozen dynamic tradition”. The Shillong Times. December 24. —. 2015. “The District Council: an avatar of ‘Ka Dorbar-ki Bakhraw’”. The Shillong Times, January 17. Mackenzie, Alexander. 1979. The North East Frontier of India. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. Minattur, Joseph. 2005. “The Khasis”. (From Modern Review, May 1955). In S. K. Sharma and Usha Sharma (eds.) Discovery of North-East India: Geography, History, Culture, Religion, Politics, Sociology, Science, Education and Economy. Vol. 7 Meghalaya. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. Misra, Bani Prasanna. May 19, 1979. “Agarian Relations in a Khasi State”. Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 14, No. 20. Parry, Geraint. Oct. 1982. “Tradition, Community and SelfDetermination”. British Journal of Political Science Vol. 12, No. 4. Phira, J. M. 1991. U Khasi Mynta bad ki Riti Tynrai. Shillong. Pieper, Josef. Oct. 1958. “The Concept of Tradition”. The Review of Politics Vol. 20, No. 4, Issue: I. Roy, David. 2005. “Whither the Khasi Hills?” (From the author’s Whither the Khasi Hills? A Study, 1946). In S. K. Sharma and Usha Sharma (eds.) Discovery of North-East India: Geography, History, Culture, Religion, Politics, Sociology, Science, Education and Economy. Vol. 7 Meghalaya. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. Rymbai, Tokin R. 1974. Report of the Land Reforms Commission for Khasi Hills. Shillong: Government of Meghalaya. Sen, Soumen. 1985. Social and State Formation in Khasi-Jaintia Hills: A Study of Folklore. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation. Syiemlieh, David R. Spring, 2006. “Traditional Institutions of Governance in the Hills of North East India: The Khasi Experience”. Man and Society, Volume III. Shillong: ICSSR-NERC.


Introduction Early evolutionists have attempted to demonstrate that most societies have eventually evolved from matriarchy to their present form. Early human kinship was matrilineal (Knight, 2008). Morgan in Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (Morgan, 1877) championed the historical priority of the matrilineal clan over patriliny and over the nuclear family. In Engel’s schema, matriliny not only precedes patriliny, it is also associated with preclass, preliterate, and stateless societies that are societies which are essentially based on a subsistence level of production and community cooperation. Most anthropologists however, do not believe in the existence of any true matriarchy. They suggest that there exist three characteristics of matriliny, viz., descent through the mother (family name through the mother), the matri-local residential system (the husband lives at the residence of the wife after marriage) and the inheritance of property by females. Thus, any society, which follows these three norms, is presently called a matrilineal society. In a matrilineal society, the descent or the family name is through the mother's side, and is known as “matrilineal descent”. As descent is through the female side only the children of the female of the family can become members of the family. The children of the male child cannot be the members of his mother’s family as they cannot take the family name of their fathers. Matrilineal societies also exhibit interesting varieties of residence patterns, like, “a man residing with his wife's matrilineal kin”, “a wife residing with her husband's matrilineal kin” or “with his paternal kin”, “couples settling down together in a new residence”, or the “two living with their respective natal groups following the duo-local pattern”

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


(Richards, 1950: 207-251; Dube, 1973: 19). Traditionally, it has been assumed that in those societies where married children live near or with their kin, residence will tend to be patri-local if males contribute more to the economy and matri-local if women contribute more (Ember and Ember, 1971: 571-594; Divale, 1974: 75-133). Ember and Ember (1971) have also mentioned that cross-cultural evidence also suggests that in societies where war exists amongst the neighbouring communities, residence is almost always matri-local. Usually in a matrilineal system, it is the husband who lives with his wife in his in-laws’ house and he does not take his bride home, as is the case with other communities. After the birth of one or two children the man frequently takes his wife to his own house. Generally at this point in time they form a neo-local family. However an interesting feature of the neo-local family set-up is that the mother of the bride mostly gifts the house in which the couple usually settles down (Sinha, 1970: 140). Property is transmitted through the female and is held by the females alone. Whatever a male member of the family earns belongs to the family to which he belongs and either goes to his mother or is inherited by his sister and her female descendants.

Matrilineal Society in India When most of the people in the world follow the patrilineal system there exist a few groups here and there who believe themselves to be the descendants of Japheth (son of Noah), and are followers of the matrilineal system (Syiemlieh, 1994). At the global level the existence of matrilineal society is found among the tribes of African countries, in some parts of Southeast Asia and among three groups in India. It is the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, comprising the largest ethnic group in the world who follow a matrilineal system (Tanius, 1983: 358-390). In the Indian context, the matrilineal social system is found only among small pockets of south and north east India. The Nairs and Mappilles in Kerala, the tribal groups of Minicoy Island and the Khasis, Jaintia (also referred to as Pnar) and the Garos of Meghalaya are the followers of the matrilineal system. However, the matrilineal system of the African countries differs considerably from that of the Southeast Asian groups. Even within India, the system differs from one group to another (Kapadia, 1966: 336-354). Among these groups the difference is mostly observed in the type of residence after marriage. The pattern of duo-local residence exists among the Ashanti of the Gold Coast in Africa, the Minangkabau of Sumatra and the Nayars of central Kerala. However, the Khasis of Meghalaya generally follow the residential pattern known as “matrilocal residence”, where the


Chapter Fourteen

husband resides with his wife's matrilineal kin or in other cases the couple settle down together in a new residence in and around his wife's maternal place (neo-local residence).

Matrilineal Culture of the Khasi Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, is home to the three tribes––the Khasi, the Jaintia and the Garo. The ethnic composition of the State is eighty-five per cent tribal and fifteen per cent others. The major tribes are the Khasi, Jaintia and the Garo. The Khasi and Jaintia trace their ancestry to the Mongolian race, while the Garo belong to the Tibeto-Burman race. One of the foundations of traditional Khasi society is the recognition of the special and unique role of women. Anthropologists describe it as a matrilineal society (Rasid, 1982: 26-28). Although 80 per cent of the tribal population is Christian these old traditions still pervade Khasi society. It may be emphasised that the Khasi matrilineal culture is defined by three features: property ownership rights, matrilocal residence and/or family name through the mother’s side. The terms “matriliny” and “matriarchy” have become inseparably associated with the Khasi social organisation since they were first used by Gurdon to describe Khasi social customs (Gurdon, 2010: 82). The underlying concept of matriliny which is practised among the nearly one million Khasi people is that descent and lineage are from the mother’s clan line and ancestral property passes to the youngest daughter who is the custodian of ancestral property. The Khasi and Pnar society exists amidst a strong patriarchal “Indian society”. Yet matriliny has been able to survive the storms and stresses that threaten to disrupt it at particular junctures in history and to come out stronger after the challenges. The inherent strength of matriliny lies in the respect and responsibility that society places on women, especially on the clan mother. To understand the nature of Khasi social organisation, it becomes necessary to state that the general rule of a matrilineal system is that females inherit property. However, it must be noted at the outset that the system of inheritance is governed by a code of rules, which, if taken in its totality and richness, can hardly be described as simple. In fact, Khasi society is more complex and vivid than is apparent. The Khasi have matrilocal residence and matrilineal descent. The two elements that bind the members together are participation in the family religion and the common sepulchre, where bones of the members of the family are interred after death. Besides the matrilocal residential pattern and matrilineal descent, family property is mainly transmitted through the female line. It may be mentioned that in Khasi society the youngest daughter is an

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


institution in herself. Before the advent of Christianity, the youngest daughter played an important role in the family. Her parents stay with her until their death and she has the sole responsibility of looking after them. The youngest daughter, in a Khasi family is in charge of the family religion. She cremates her mother and inters her bones in the common sepulchre (a place where the bones are kept with a huge stone over it which is different in shape for males and females). Marriage is a great social institution among the Khasis as it determines the system of the matrilocal residential pattern among them (Sinha, 1970). Being the followers of a unique social system of matriliny, the Khasi women enjoy a special place of status and dignity (Kyndiah, 1990). A Khasi woman is the guardian and preserver of the family property. She plays a crucial role in the affairs of the family. However, she is not the head of the family, as this is left to a male member, the eldest uncle. The father of the family has a definite role to play in the household affairs. However, his role is limited to the final word of the maternal uncle. The clan is a strong foundation upon which Khasi society rests. At the head of the clan is the maternal uncle who decides the political and social interests of the clan. But he too draws his strength from his own relatives from the mother’s side. However, the women do not seek leadership in either politics or religion, and the Khasi have rarely had queens but mostly kings and all priests are male. Land, power, name and social rank are passed on from mothers to daughters. Even before the British colonial conquest, kings did not pass power on to their sons. The chiefs (Syiem) were men but the rights to chieftainship were passed down through the chief's youngest sister: so a chief could not make his son the next chief, only his sister's son could be the next chief.

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Ensuring its Continuity amidst Changes Khasi matriliny is, according to studies conducted by sociologist Dev Nathan, the fastest eroding matrilineal society in the world. Anthropologists have also predicted the inevitable demise of matriliny in the face of modernisation, urbanisation and colonialism. This prediction rests on the notion that matrilineal institutions are more liable to change than patrilineal ones when confronted with economic differentiation. The original Khasi matrilineal system and its moral efficacy have now been largely distorted (Bareh, 1994). Literature shows that a shift is taking place in matrilineal society towards a parental or patrilineal one (Tanius, 1983; Syiemlieh, 1994). Syiemlieh in his write-up on the Khasis and their


Chapter Fourteen

matrilineal system has explained that due to some basic reasons there exists a transition in the matrilineal set-up in Meghalaya. This transition in the matrilineal society is due to the changes in the overall set-up. Such changes can be the result of factors like intermingling with other neighbouring patriarchal communities, the advent of missionaries and the spread of Christianity among these tribal groups. The spread of urbanisation and urban development along with Christianity has changed the perception and attitude of people among the Khasi (Kapadia, 1966; Syiemlieh, 1994). When we try to understand the cultural shifts in a particular community, two questions arise; firstly, what is the source of the new trait and secondly, why are people motivated to adopt it? From the literature on matrilineal societies it has been found that some of the matrilineal societies have changed through the ages to patriarchy and this process is making inroads into the remaining matriarchal societies which are coming into contact with the outer world (Vidyarthi and Rai, 1985: 389). This process of transformation of matrilineal society into different phases has been the outcome of various interacting forces. Though this change is not visible from outside, to understand the mechanism one should study the cultural pattern and practices by observing them thoroughly in their own environment. The sources of change in the culture may be inside or outside the society, that is, new ideas or behaviour may originate within the society or they may have been due to the intervention of an outside culture or they may have been borrowed or imposed by another society. In the following section, an attempt is made to understand the process of cultural change among the Khasis, who belong to the matrilineal set-up. The first major challenge to Khasi matriliny came with the arrival of Christianity. Christianity came on the scene with its patrilineal values and cultural concepts. Christianity spread among the Khasis mainly during the British rule and presently covers more than 80 per cent of the total population in the State of Meghalaya. Christianity spread through the work of Christian missionaries both in rural as well as urban areas. Christianity was largely accepted and adopted by the Khasis more than by the other two tribal groups (Garos and Jaintia) of Meghalaya (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner: 1992). The first generation converts completely cut themselves off from practising the traditional religion. Many of them were ostracised and rejected by their clan, kur (Syiem, 1998: 50). Due to the activity of Christian missionaries during the past century and the development of a dynamic native Christian church, the culture of the Khasis has been radically altered and thus the Khasis have accepted “new lives for old” (Roy, 1964). When Christianity came

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


the Khasi family was faced with the question of whether Ka Khadduh (the youngest daughter) could hold the family property if she were to convert to Christianity. In 1918, the then government ruled that Christian converts should be allowed to inherit the ancestral property. Property was thus divorced from religion. Though religion was divorced from the traditional rules, because of the modernisation process, such as, educational development along with the spread of Christianity, the traditional system also changed in many respects (Roy, 1964: 105-115). Another important impact of Christian intervention into the Khasi matrilineal culture was the spread of western liberal education. Western education helped the missionaries achieve the goal of providing education to people in isolated or backward regions. As education altered human perception, even among Khasis, there developed changes in the traditional set-up. As mentioned by an eminent academician, at the present time when education has become an asset, and is available in most of the parts of our state, the parents consider it essential to educate their children so that they can also achieve their goals in this modern world. But, though education has helped the overall developmental process, it has also altered the perception of men and thus among most of the male members in particular, the desire to form a separate household after marriage has emerged. They wanted to have an independent life.

The second change has come from the growing exposure to and interaction with patriarchal cultures. Khasi society has had interaction with other neighbouring cultures in the past. Since independence, Khasi society has been increasingly open to the larger Indian society. Besides, many Khasis have gone out of their homes to other parts of the country for the purposes of education and employment. Thus, when they return they bring along with them the different norms and values of other cultures, mainly of patriarchal values, which after mixing with traditional norms and values give shape to a different cultural set-up. Changes have also been occurring due to cross-marriages because the children of such generally use their father’s clan name. At present one comes across children of Khasi families, especially in the urban areas, using their father’s clan name or both their father’s and mother’s clan name. Urbanisation is another important cause which has brought changes to the Khasi matrilineal set-up. The spread of urbanisation has given rise to more chances for the intermingling of people from different communities and has thus led to a loose version of “cultural assimilation” among them. This process has also altered their perception of matrilineal culture among them. The real matriliny among Khasis is, thus, in a process of transition


Chapter Fourteen

due to many factors. Though it is very difficult to give any direct opinion about its quality, it is true that the changes have emerged mainly due to western education, the arrival of Christianity, urbanisation, the level of modern value input in the society and the intermingling of different communities with the passage of time. The most important changes that have taken place in the matrilineal society as observed in the above discussion are the change in the residential system, changes in the property inheritance system and the crux of the entire problem, the Khasi lineage system. This has put the system under the microscope of critics from within the society. Murdock contends that the erosion of matriliny is closely tied up with patri-local residence, as this involves a man in lifelong residential propinquity and social participation with the father’s patrilineal kinsmen. In Murdock’s opinion this has meant the end of the road for matrilineal descent (Nongbri, 2003). In the last few decades there have been a few Khasi men, who being influenced by the patriarchal societies around them, have been spearheading a movement called the Synkhong Rympei Thymmai, (foundation for a new hearth) against this age-old matrilineal culture. Officially registered on 14 April 1990, Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT) is spearheading a movement for social change to reverse the downtrend of the Khasi male by shouldering him with the authority and responsibility of which he has been deprived in the present Khasi sociological set-up and which has been the main cause of his all-round deterioration. This organisation is of the opinion that the matrilineal culture is a source of social discrimination. The main objective of the SRT, is to strive to bring back the lost glory of U Rangbah, the Khasi male and to place him in a position, by giving him his title and to unite the family under one clan, making it a strong unit and the foundation of the Khasi society. The SRT believes that the father is the head and the mother is the heart of the family. The organisation has taken upon itself to “liberate” men from female “dominance”. The SRT battle is not about gaining women's rights, but about diminishing them. According to the SRT men were oppressed by what they now see as a female‐dominated society. Outside influences and education have made them realise that they do not have the “‘natural rights” of their brethren throughout most of the patrilineal world. In the Khasi society which gives social importance to women, men face the same struggle for equality as women elsewhere in the world. The same view is echoed by J. D. Lyngdoh, Vice President of the Societal Restructuring Association, when he speaks of gender imbalance and the social insecurity among men within the matrilineal culture. Another reason put forward by critics of the matrilineal culture is Khasi men's disenfranchisement in matters of land

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


ownership. Jack Goody in his study of the Lowilli claims that disparities in income weaken the matrilineal principle (Nongbri, 2003: 64). The SRT also believes that family assets should be equitably distributed amongst the offspring, irrespective of their sex and not given only to the youngest daughter as is presently practised. With the rise of a non-tribal population in the State of Meghalaya, the critics also use the questions of immigration and land ownership as reasons to end the matrilineal system. Another movement called the Mait Shaphrang Movement has also been at the forefront demanding a law for the Equitable Distribution of Ancestral and Self Acquired Property for both the genders. They demand that the equal distribution of property should be enacted side by side with the Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act. Some sections of the Khasi society, especially those who are Christians, also contend that the Bible and God do not talk of a matrilineal society, but of a patrilineal society. The Bible is in favour of the patrilineal system. The Khasi matrilineal culture is also being questioned by many activists on the pretext of influx. The Khasi Students Union (KSU) has been particularly eager to exploit the immigration issue as a way to change the culture. Recently, they tried to push through the State legislature a law that would banish a woman from the Khasi way of life if she married a non‐tribal man. Paul Lyngdoh, a former President of the KSU, seems to think that under a patrilineal system there would be no immigration problems. He feels that the Khasi women are being used and need to be protected for the preservation of their own culture…This all goes back to the matrilineal system. When all the family wealth goes only to the women, it makes you practically dependent on them. And this is why at this stage we… (are) exploited from all sides, from all spheres of life: education, family, and politics. (Laird: 5)

It is also to be noted that the contention by critics that the youngest daughter in the Khasi family inherits the ancestral property also does not hold water. In fact, this is a distorted view since the youngest daughter is the “guardian” not the “owner” of family property. The real power within the family lies in the hands of the maternal uncle. Thus the contention that a Khasi male is under the net of social discrimination is a misconception. Perhaps the questions raised by Khasi culture are ones of human conditioning, rather than of gender imbalance. However, it is in the light of economic differentiation within the society, that the Khasi culture needs introspection. As such, the Khasi matrilineal culture needs to adapt itself with the changing times to ensure its survival and continuity. Here, the Khasi culture would be best advised to learn from the culture of a section


Chapter Fourteen

of its own society. The law of inheritance should accordingly be similar to that of the Shella Wahadadarship, that is, to say that the children should have equal rights over the properties of their parents. Another vexing question of lineage is haunting the Khasi matrilineal culture. As mentioned earlier, in such a culture the children of the male child cannot be members of his mother’s family as they cannot take the family name of their fathers. Here the Khasi culture will need to adapt itself to the concept of bilateral descent (Shepard & Greene, 2003: 22) practised by Javanese people, the largest ethnic group in Indonesia. The social identity of the children is derived from both the parents. And here the Khasi matrilineal culture needs a reconstruction to ensure its continuity and acceptance among the young and educated populace influenced by liberal principles of equality and individualism. Moreover, in the light of the challenges which face the continuity of Khasi matrilineal culture it is apt to define the role and status of women in the Khasi society. Different views and opinions have been highlighted and expressed with regard to the role and status of women. There are scholars who are of the opinion that primitive societies generally assign high status to women whereas the other viewpoint proposes that in the tribal world, women are generally the suppressed group, have low status and are under subjugation, oppression or male dominance (Lodha, 2003: 3). Status and role are two sides of the same coin. In other words these are two concepts which are inseparable. Nevertheless these are two different concepts. Status is a collection of rights and duties and can be expressed through the medium of an individual. It is the position that one holds in society. Role, on the other hand, represents the dynamic aspects of status. The individual occupies the status which is assigned to him/her socially and he/she does so in/with relation to other statuses. Further, the individual performs his/her role when duties and rights associated with status are put into effect. According to Ralph Linton, status, as distinct from the individual who may occupy it, is simply a collection of rights and duties. He also made a distinction between the concept of “ascribed role” and “achieved role”. Linton highlights that ascribed roles are those which the individual has absolutely no choice over while achieved roles are those in which the individual has some sense of choice, regardless of the magnitude of the choice (Sutherland, Woodward & Maxwell, 1961: 75). Young and Mack (1972: 139-140) argue that status is an abstraction, a description of one’s place in a social group relative to other positions in the group whereas a role is the function of the status. Young and Mack assert that when an individual occupies a given position, the placement of that position above some others and below still others will have consequences for his/her interaction

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


in the group. The consequences of occupying that status are called his/her role. They have stated that like status, role is an abstraction; it remains the same even if the expectations are being met by different individuals. The following paragraph will illustrate the unique structure of the Khasi society with reference to the question of the status and role of the two sexes. In the traditional Khasi society, a woman’s role in the Khasi village council does not exist. Even in the present times women have no right to stand for office in the dorbar shnong (village council) and they are not allowed to exercise their franchise within the institution of the dorbar. Women in Khasi society are inactive in the decision-making process of traditional bodies. It is in the traditional political sphere that women, in general, cannot participate; they neither have the right to contest for any office in the traditional council nor are they permitted to exercise their franchise. The traditional council consists only of male members and the voting process to elect office bearers is also exercised by the male members. The role of women in the religious institutions of the village in all the different faiths professed by them is limited only to being members of the congregation. In conducting religious rites and rituals men were the main leaders and all activities related to these rites and rituals were handled by the male members of the village. In the present though the inheritance of family property, both ancestral and acquired, passes from the mother to the youngest daughter, and a fraction of the property is also given to the other daughters of the given family. It is important to mention that the youngest daughter who inherits the lion’s share of property is only the custodian of the ancestral property and not the owner of the same. It is a given duty that the youngest daughter houses and looks after her elder un-married or differently-abled brothers and sisters, widowed or divorced sisters and their children, widowed or divorced brothers and also orphans of her deceased sisters, provided they are still young or unmarried. The house of the youngest daughter is regarded as a refuge for all her family members. The maternal uncle administers and has equal control over the property while the sons are completely deprived of the said property. The dual concept of role and status is in essence the basic building block of a given social system. A social system is a network of statuses and their associated roles. Thus while a Khasi woman has a status and is a symbol of authority the centre of that authority lies with the opposite gender.


Chapter Fourteen

Conclusion It can be concluded that the Khasi matrilineal culture is facing stiff opposition and a daunting challenge from within its own ranks. While the test might be one challenging its very survival, the real question to be asked is one of continuity. The Khasi matrilineal system has judiciously created a system of gender equality and with it a partial empowerment of women. A complete transformation to patriarchy is not a desirable solution. Institutions are part of a social construct and have been formed and transformed according to the requirements of the society. Changes will have to take place but not at the cost of culture. Changing our culture is not a solution to the problems of the Khasi society. As everywhere the transitional language reflects basic cultural assumptions. The Khasis believe the female is the giver of all life, the root of all things. And even though men retained political power in the form of tribal monarchies and clan councils, rights to all power passed from mother to daughter, not from father to son. The Khasi matrilineal society is, thus, “female oriented but not female dominated”. It is important to note that Khasi matrilineal culture is not matriarchal. Audrey Richards (1950) refers to these contradictions as “the matrilineal puzzle”. Historically, men have always been the ones who were the decision-makers of society. Here the men have power but the power is inherited from the women. This power structure has created a unique balance between the sexes.

References Bareh, H. 1994. Encyclopedia of India: Meghalaya. New Delhi: Rima Publications. Divale, W. T. 1974. “Migration, external warfare, and matrilocal residence”. Behaviour Science Research Vol. 9. Dubey, D. C., and A. Bardhan. 1973. “Role of social interaction and incentives in social change: A case of mass acceptance of vasectomy”. Paper presented at the 9th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Chicago, August-September. Ember, M., and C. R. Ember. 1971. “The conditions favouring matrilocal residence”. American Anthropologist Vol. 73. Gurdon, P. R. T. 2010. The Khasis. New Delhi: Akanksha Publishing House. Kapadia, K. M. 1966. “The matrilineal family”. In K. M.Kapadia (ed.) Marriage and Family in India. Bombay: Oxford University. Kharkhrang, Roland. 2012. Matriliny on the March: A Closer Look at the

Khasi Matrilineal Culture: Tradition, Continuity and Change


Family System, Past and Present of the Khasis in Meghalaya. Shillong: The Vendrame Institute Publications. Knight, Chris. 2008. “Early Human Kinship Was Matrilineal”. In N. J. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.) Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell. Kyndiah, P. R. 1990. Meghalaya: Yesterday and Today. New Delhi: HanAnand Publications. Laird, Thomas. “A woman’s world––Meghalaya, India; matrilineal culture”. Accessed through Lodha, Neeta. 2003. Status of Tribal Women: Work Participation and the Decision-making Role in Tribal Society. Jaipur: Mangal Deep Publications. Morgan, Lewis, 1907 [1877]. Ancient Society. London: MacMillan. Nongbri, T. 2003. Gender, Matriliny, and Entrepreneurship: The Khasis of North-East India. Michigan: University of Michigan. Rasid, G. 1982. “Matrilineal Societies”. Populi Vol. 9(4). Richards, Audrey I. 1950. “Some types of family structure amongst the Central Banter”. In A. R. Radcliff-Brown and D. Forde (eds.) African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. London: Oxford University Press. Roy, P. 1964. “Christianity and the Khasis”. Man in India Vol. 44(2). Shepard, Jon M., and Robert W. Greene (eds.). 2003. Sociology and You. Ohio: Glencoe McGraw-Hill. Sinha, K. 1970. Meghalaya: Triumph of the Tribal Genius. Delhi: Publications Division of ISSD. Sutherland, Robert L., Julian L. Woodward and Milton A. Maxwell (eds.). 1961. Introductory Sociology. New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co. Syiem, I. M. 1998. “Religion and Matriliny in Khasi society: Some observations”. In P. M. Chacko (ed.) Matriliny in Meghalaya: Tradition and Change. New Delhi: Regency Publications. Syiemlieh, P. B. 1994. The Khasis and Their Matrilineal System. Shillong: Syian-Khasi Press. Tanius, M. 1983. “Matrilineal society and family planning: A Minangkabau case study”. In Wilfredo, F. Arce and G. C. Alvarez (eds.) Population Change in South East Asia. Singapore: ISAS. Vidyarthi, L. P., and B. Rai. 1985. The Tribal Culture of India. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. Young, Kimball, and Raymond W. Mack. 1972. Systematic Sociology. New Delhi: Affiliated East-West Press Pvt. Ltd.


Introduction Traditional institutions have always played a vital role among the Khasi of Meghalaya, varying in application from village, commune and chieftainship administration, to natural resource management. Among these, traditional regimes of forest resource management have been instrumental in maintaining the integrity of community forests while catering to the needs of the local people. However, in recent times, such traditional institutions and practices have gradually started losing their influence in varying extents. They may be viewed as becoming irrelevant in light of modernisation and present issues such as unemployment, scarcity of jobs, privatisation and migration from rural to urban areas. However, traditional institutions may possess within their framework, solutions to a number of these problems. If traditional institutions disappear, the solutions might also be lost. Thus, there is a need to revive interest in such traditional institutions. This may be accomplished by adapting them to address present issues in the daily lives of the people, thus enhancing their scope for offering efficient and pragmatic solutions to the problems and challenges that are faced by common people in the State of Meghalaya today. Traditionally, the Khasi have always had a reverence for the divine, which can be seen to manifest itself in the form of respect

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


for nature. The Khasis’ respect for nature is an integral part of their worldview and is reflected in myriad aspects of Khasi life and culture, from folk tales, mythology, spirituality and religion (Mawrie, 2001; Dunai, 2015: 78-88; Sawian, 2015: 89-98; Lyngdoh, 2015: 119-130) to forest conservation and management (Roy, 2015: 139-148; Dasgupta & Syiemlieh, 2006: 59-80). However, even among the Khasi such traditional resource management practices are gradually losing perceived relevance due to the force of various socio-economic pressures. Movements in sustainable development, conservation and natural resource management have in recent years laid great importance on a return to indigenous practices. Interest groups from developed nations are looking to the time-honoured though hitherto often disregarded practices passed down from generation to generation among indigenous people the world over. The aims of such endeavours are twofold: firstly to promote conservation of biodiversity and other natural resources, and secondly, to ensure sustainability through local participation, education, training, awareness and employment. Climate change mitigation (CCM) mechanisms such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD/REDD+) aim at mitigating the impacts of climate change and providing revenue and livelihood alternatives for local communities living in developing countries. Such mechanisms may, if compatible with preexisting traditional forest resource management practices, possess the potential to enhance them and imbue them with new relevance with regard to contemporary problems and issues. This paper evaluates whether REDD+ can revitalise traditional forest resource management regimes and institutions among the Khasi.

Community Forest Management among the Khasi The Khasi possess a traditional system of Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) which, if followed judiciously, is inherently sustainable. Khasi methods of forest management centre around the division of community owned forests into different types on the basis of the role they play in community life and the resources extracted from them. These forests are Common Property Resources (Note 1) and as such, usage is restricted to and regulated by members of the community. Nongkynrih (2006) found that those residing permanently within the Hima (Note 2) Mawphlang, for example enjoyed rights to extract timber and non timber forest products (NTFPs) as well as to quarry sand and stone from specific sites where the said activities are allowed. Non-permanent residents were denied access to all but wild vegetables and water


Chapter Fifteen

resources, to be used for consumption and for domestic purposes only. Land tenure in the State of Meghlaya has remained for the most part intact in spite of the colonial presence of the British during the span of their rule. Over eighty per cent of Meghalaya's forests are unclassified (Singh et al., 2008: 12). Correspondingly, the de facto authority over such forests resides with local communities. Most community owned/managed forests are held under the sway of chieftainships or hima, or under the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) under the rights accorded to the tribes of the region in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. The forests managed as Common Property Resources (CPRs) among the Khasi are given names corresponding to their use and the function they serve for the benefit of the community as found by Dasgupta and Syiemlieh (2006). The different types of community forests were clearly defined and designated in the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills District (Management and Control of Forests) Act of 1958. This Act recognised forests of religious significance as the Law Kyntang, the sacred groves, which the Khasi who adhere to the indigenous beliefs, regard as holy places, home to sylvan spirits, and which as such, should remain inviolate; thus the extraction of resources of any kind from such forests is restricted; Law Lyngdoh (Priest’s forest/grove) and Law Niam (Religious forest/grove) as falling within the control of the priest, Lyngdoh. Forests that existed for community utilisation such as the Law Shnong or the Law Adong were designated as village forests managed by locals for the services rendered and resources extracted there-from. Such forests were to be managed by the Sirdar or the Rangbah Shnong, that is, the headman along with the help of the village dorbar. The Act further designated Law Raij as forests managed and maintained by the heads of the Raij or commune. In the case of the Hima Mawphlang, the Codified Rules and Regulations of the Hima Mawphlang (1982), stipulate that community forests within the Hima are further subdivided into different types depending on the kind of resource to be extracted there-from or service each forest is meant to provide. For example, timber may be extracted from the community forest, Ka Khlaw Adong Kseh Mawngap only for the purpose of building construction within the community; while timber from Ka Khlaw Adong Wah Sein Iong may be extracted only by community members from five designated villages, solely for funerary purposes, with prior permission from the Hima. No human activity is permitted in Ka Khlaw Kor Um Kharai Masi on account of it having been designated as a spring water catchment area. Designated resources from these forests may be extracted, provided the rules and stipulations of the Hima are observed. If violated, culprits will be subject to punitive action at the discretion of the Hima.

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


Nongkynrih (2006: 47-62) states that while the standard fine for violation is USD 2, this may be varied depending on the nature and extent of the violation. This method of CBFM has hitherto ensured the perpetuation of different forests and the resources and services they render. It also helps to ensure that all community members equitably reap the benefits of community forest resources, regardless of their socioeconomic status and that all are equally subject to disciplinary action for any infraction. The Khasi thus possess a robust traditional system of CBFM which, if efficiently upheld not only ensures that the needs of the community are met, but also that the integrity of the forests is preserved. Khasi CBFM is a unique synergy of cultural, religious, and utilitarian aspects of forest use that have together given rise to a most effective and efficient method of resource management.

Problems and Threats Gassah (1998) argues that the existence and continued relevance of traditional institutions of the Khasi have been threatened in recent decades with the coming of modernisation in the socio-political arena. The effects that such changes bring leave the old socio-political structure of the community under immense pressure. In the case of the traditional institutions of the Khasi, this is borne out by the erosion of their authority and perceived relevance. The Khasi people have lived with the dichotomy of tradition and modernity for decades and have found it difficult to negotiate the divide. Mukhim (2008) offers three possible reasons for this decline: the inability to evolve and adapt to the realities and challenges of modern times; the lack of proper constitutional recognition for these bodies and the commercial pressure exerted by globalisation. Traditional CBFM regimes are therefore also faced with these same challenges and must adapt to address modern issues, or face erosion due to a decline in perceived relevance. According to Dasgupta and Syiemlieh (2006: 59-80) the need of the hour is that the traditional form of community forest management and regulation be continued in light of the allure of modernisation, which stresses the corporatisation and privatisation of assets to the detriment of the community. Lyngdoh (2015: 156) argues that: the privatisation of community land in the Khasi Hills has hastened during the latter half of the twentieth century. The impact of industrialisation and the setting of industrial areas, the exploitation of forest based resources as well as mineral resources and the tapping of natural resources for energy


Chapter Fifteen production witnessed land acquisition by the government, by outside entities as well as by the tribal elite.

Nongkynrih (2006: 47-62) states that in a number of Hima, local chieftains, working in conjunction with politicians and businessmen engaged in the timber trade, have privatised large areas of community forest and registered them in the Revenue department of the State government thus legitimising the conversion. He also argues that, while traditional CBFM regimes have proven highly successful in securing local communities' rights to forest resource extraction, they have so far failed to impress upon forest users, the need for and importance of restoring what has been extracted. While resource usage and extraction rights may be clearly defined, stipulations regarding activities to compensate for the loss incurred due to resource extraction are largely ignored. Other problems such as the increasing emphasis on the need and importance of obtaining higher levels of education, the dwindling job market and the growing population of unemployed youth with various levels of education are plaguing Khasi society today. There is also an increasing trend for the migration of the rural population to urban and suburban areas, particularly youth, who do so in search of education and employment opportunities. Local communities, when faced with the above problems are likely to give more importance to activities that they perceive will be able to yield income and improve their financial situation. Less affluent families are likely to invest in income generating practices, giving little thought to their environmental impact. They may choose to continue agricultural and resource extraction practices such as jhum cultivation, charcoal making, rat hole mining and quarrying which have had detrimental impacts on the environment. Those seeking higher education are likely to migrate away from their villages to urban and suburban centres. With the focus on livelihoods, education and employment the significance of traditional forms of forest resource management may see a decline in local perceptions. If disregarded by local communities, their effectiveness in ensuring the conservation of forest resources may also be threatened. Local authorities need to lay more emphasis on the importance of land use practices. Local landowners would benefit from incentives encouraging them to review and change their land practices. Learning to view forests as great sources of biodiversity and providers of invaluable ecosystem services would work with great effect towards this end. However, such changes in local attitudes would be better served by the introduction of mechanisms that ensure some form of impetus is obtained, such as revenue for the community. Ecosystem services that can be utilised to generate revenue and aid in changing the attitude of local people

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


should be selected for the implementation of such mechanisms. Of these ecosystem services carbon sequestration is one with the potential to provide incentive and augmentation to existing practices through the initiation of such programs as REDD+, for which local involvement and management are crucial.

REDD+: A Brief Explanation and History of the Mechanism REDD+ is a payment for environmental services (PES) mechanism that is mainly associated with providing remuneration for activities that reduce, prevent or avoid deforestation and forest degradation, thus reducing the amount of carbon emitted by such activities, and increasing the amount of emissions reductions. Ghazoul et al. (2010: 396) define REDD+ as a: form of payment for environmental services where carbon storage value for forests threatened by degradation or clearance is financially recognised through payments to forest owners (usually, but not exclusively nation states), to conserve the forest.

First introduced at the 11th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 11), it was to have a twofold aim: firstly, to mitigate climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; secondly, to remove greenhouse gases through augmented, improved forest management implemented in developing countries. It was first expounded at COP 11 in a document entitled “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries: Approaches to Stimulate Action” produced at the behest of the countries of Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea, on behalf of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. During the COP 13 held in December 2007, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called for the assessment of deforestation drivers to be reported within years. The decision known as the Bali Action Plan was executed whereby REDD was amended and expanded upon to include the following aims: sustainable forest management, forest conservation and enhancement of forest carbon sinks. This enhanced mechanism was referred to as REDD+. The added objectives constituted the “+” in the name. Under REDD+, if local communities protect their forest resources by refraining from or restricting activities such as timber/fuel-wood harvesting, shifting cultivation, charcoal making, etc., the amount of carbon protected and sequestered additionally on account of avoiding such


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activities can be estimated, quantified, certified and sold in the form of certified emissions reductions (CERs) or carbon credits on the international carbon market. Groups interested in meeting their emission reduction targets, may do so by purchasing these carbon credits. The revenue obtained from the transaction may then be distributed equitably among all stakeholders. It is to be noted that REDD+ is intended primarily for implementation in pre-existing, natural growth forests and does not involve carbon sequestration and the trading of emissions from afforestation/reforestation projects or monoculture plantations. This is in accordance with the thought that avoiding and mitigating deforestation and allowing and propagating forest regeneration is more cost effective than afforestation and reforestation in terms of reducing atmospheric carbon (Newell and Stavins, 2000: 211-235; Watson et al., 2000; Klooster and Masera, 2000: 259-272).

REDD+ in Meghalaya: The Umiam Sub-Watershed REDD+ Project In 2005, a PES pilot project was initiated by Community Forestry International (CFI) involving two villages in the Hima Mawphlang. The organisation was invited by local leaders to help them in dealing with problems regarding resource management such as, among others, “stone quarrying, uncontrolled grazing, forest fires, illegal logging and unsustainable fuel wood collection” (Poffenberger, 2012: 53). The success of this venture encouraged an additional nine other himas encompassing 60 villages to join in, from which has developed what Poffenberger (op. cit.: 50) has called a “sub-watershed federation” or synjuk (Note 3) that has expanded upon the original idea and incorporated REDD+ into the project (Ibid.). Proponents of the project in their idea note (Project Idea Note, 2011) stated that the objectives of the project were to support local community forest resource protection and management efforts, to bring about an improvement in economic conditions via the provision of additional sources of income and livelihood, the conservation of biodiversity, the protection and enhancement of environmental services and to develop “operation systems for multi-benefit performance oriented programs that can be replicated by forest dependent communities in other parts of North East India and the larger South Asia Region” (Ibid.: 2-3). More recently, the project was certified under the Plan Vivo Standard in April 2013 (Poffenberger, 2014: 229-240). For mitigation activities undertaken during 2012, certificates for 21,805 tons worth of carbon were issued during 2013. By the end of 2013, 5193 tons were sold by brokers at

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


prices ranging from USD 6 to USD 7 per ton. After the deduction of issuance fees, the federation managing the project received USD 25,947 in revenues (Ibid.). In 2013 carbon revenues supported project management and monitoring, public awareness raising, the establishment of twenty community nurseries and support to women’s micro-finance groups and farmers’ clubs. Participating communities also initiated forest restoration activities on 505 hectares of land with plans to add 500 hectares each year over the ten-year project period in order to restore 5000 hectares of degraded forest (Ibid.). According to Project Director Mr. Tambor Lyngdoh, as of 2015, revenue from the project has so far been distributed to local communities and has helped to fund the establishment and maintenance of 32 Self Help Groups (SHGs) engaged in such activities as the sale of groceries, the rearing of pigs, goats and poultry and hollow block manufacture. An additional 10 SHGs are stated to receive aid via the REDD+ Project as well. The project has also helped to aid the setting up of tree adoption programs aimed at garnering the interest of school children, as well as projects related to community water resource management and other community needs such as sanitation and waste disposal. Farmer's clubs and Local working committees (LWCs) have also been initiated under the auspices of the project. Mr. Lyngdoh also elaborated upon a mechanism he dubbed “convergence”, through which local communities may cooperate with various government agencies on the condition that new methods or strategies (agricultural, animal husbandry, or forestry based) proposed by the latter will be demonstrated on a trial basis first. Based on the results of the trial, local communities may then reserve the right to accept or reject the proposal. The Umiam Sub-Watershed REDD+ Project (USWRP) is an example of how REDD+ can be adapted to suit a local context and enhance pre-existing CBFM regimes so as to aid forest resource conservation while catering to the current needs of local communities.

The Socio-Cultural Implications of Implementing REDD+ In the conclusion of his 2012 review of the USWRP, Mark Poffenberger (2012: 59) states that: ...important institutions in Khasi society that have been largely by-passed by national and state government are now emerging as key elements in a grassroots attempt to protect and restore local forests that possess valuable biological and cultural diversity. Communal governance structures like the durbar and hima that rely on democratic processes to enable consensusbased decision making are being re-empowered through this project. This


Chapter Fifteen process strengthens the traditional land tenure rights by focusing attention on the authority of traditional institutions and the value of communal forest resources whose management has been neglected in recent decades.

The authors of this paper agree with Poffenberger in this regard. Age-old traditional land tenure and resource management strategies and institutions which have in recent years perhaps lost significance in the face of modern problems such as the need for higher education for youth and the jobrelated migration of people from rural to urban areas, are with the aid of REDD+ gaining relevance once again. Rasolofoson et al. (2015) state that many indigenous communities have in place, community forest management regimes which could possibly serve as a means by which PES mechanisms such as REDD+ can be adapted and implemented. Bluffstone et al. (2013:44) argue that: if forests are indeed such a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions (Note 4) and CCFs [community controlled forests] are a large part of world forests, it is difficult to imagine credibly addressing climate change without explicitly addressing the opportunities and challenges associated with bringing CCFS into REDD+.

Peskett (2011: 7) lists the “acknowledgement of cultural traditions” among the social benefits that REDD+ can provide to local communities. Hufty and Haakenstad (2011: 8) state that: if REDD+ were designed to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services by protecting vast areas of standing forest, it could contribute to guaranteeing long-held cultural practices and social benefits.

REDD+ provides income for local communities by extending funding for them to set up enterprises or community managed self help groups (SHGs) geared towards a variety of activities as has been indicated above. REDD+ benefits may also be utilised for the socio-economic upliftment of marginalised communities and social groups. Maraseni et al. (2014: 37-46) noted that the REDD+ pilot project in Nepal has motivated local community forest user groups to work together “to receive carbon benefits that could promote social capital and cultural harmony”. They also noted that a significant portion of the funds received were spent on pro poor activities designed to bring about the empowerment of socio-economically marginalised sections of society (Ibid.). This possesses the potential to provide members of the community especially the youth with opportunities for employment in and around their native place. This opinion is also held among other indigenous communities being courted

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


for REDD+ activities such as those of the Peruvian Amazon (Evans et al., 2014: 98-108). Moreover, since such activities involve locals acting and working together as a community, it may serve to strengthen community solidarity as well. Existing traditional Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) regimes regarding the extraction of forest resources such as timber, fuel wood or NTFPs can, through enforcement under REDD+, be enhanced within the project area. Forests that have become degraded due to human activity can, under REDD+ gain protection and eventually undergo restoration under Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR). Forests designated solely for non-timber forest products (NTFP) extraction or ground water recharge and watershed management under pre-existing CBFM regimes may benefit from increased protection against possible timber harvesting, charcoal making or jhum cultivation infractions with support from REDD+ activities. If traditional CBFM regimes could not hitherto, provide employment for local communities, under REDD+ employment may be provided to locals to serve in various capacities. Among these, employment as forest guards may, in addition to providing jobs, also provide local authorities and proponents with personnel who can enforce the CBFM user rules and regulations. REDD+ can thus enhance and augment pre-existing traditional CBFM regimes by incentivizing the activities they include. Through REDD+, local communities may come to view forest conservation as a mode of income generation and may give increasing support to existing traditional CBFM regimes that help to ensure and enforce it. With adequate training, locals would potentially be able to perpetuate the project in the long term, which would provide not only employment for the latter, but also increase the expediency and cost effectiveness of the project by progressively decreasing its dependency on external agencies. This has been found by Skutsch (2005: 433-443) with regard to the use of global positioning system (GPS) and remote sensing equipment and hand held computers designed for the input of tree biomass and carbon stock data in Tanzania; and in the case of the N'hambita Carbon Project where project staff are also mainly of local origin, serving in administration or as drivers, mechanics, etc., (Jindal et al., 2012: 21232135). Unemployed community members could be employed as forest guards, those who lay fire lines, fire watchers (Note 5), carbon estimators, data entry operators, etc. If REDD+ is set up to function in tandem with other sustainable activities such as ecotourism, additional employment activities may be created; locals may be trained to serve as tour guides, shopkeepers, chefs or in hospitality management. Educational programmes geared towards garnering interest in local culture, folklore, tradition and


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cuisine may be initiated with the two-fold aim of reaching locals and visitors alike. Thus, the opportunities provided by virtue of REDD+ and PES could also spark a renewed interest not only in traditional and indigenous resource management practices but also in the rich social, cultural and religious traditions, lore and knowledge behind them. In the Khasi context, REDD+ implementation could build upon and enhance existing, well-established CBFM regimes, as in the case of the Hima Mawphlang and the USWRP, or bring to light the need to establish similar rules and regulations for other Hima, prior to its implementation (Note 6). As in the case of the USWRP, revenue from REDD+ can benefit the community and help fund various ventures geared towards providing employment and livelihoods. Furthermore, since REDD+ encompasses payment for the enhancement of carbon stocks, it has the potential to succeed where, according to Nongkynrih (2006: 58) traditional Khasi CBFM regimes have failed and show to forest users the benefits of “replenishing what they take” from the forest. In short, the potential benefits of implementing a REDD+ project include: (1) enhancement of existing traditional CBFM regimes and related institutions; (2) revenue for the community, incentive to perpetuate existing forest management practices and funding to set up various ventures to serve as additional sources of income; (3) employment opportunities for local people through involvement in the project as guides, guards and liaisons, thus enabling them to supplement their existing income; (4) strengthening and enhancing community bonds and solidarity through REDD+ related activities that are community oriented; and (5) conservation of forests and forest biodiversity with scope for the restoration of forests via ANR and tree adoption programmes, etc. The application of REDD+ and its replication in other parts of Meghalaya have the potential to materialise the above benefits. Engaging in REDD+ will potentially enable the management and perpetuation of existing forests. This may have the added effect of not only preserving extant groves but also of fostering management that will lead to the re-growth, regeneration and expansion of groves of hitherto dwindling sizes.

Concerns Regarding REDD+ As with many new mechanisms deployed as part of the global effort to halt environmental degradation to ensure sustainable development, there have been a number of concerns raised by various scientists, social rights activists and environmental watch groups about the viability, efficacy and ethicality of REDD+. When implementing REDD+ it is of prime

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


importance to keep in mind these problems and objections and to put in place a system of rigorous checks and balances. REDD+ is not without problems and caveats in a socio-cultural context. Widespread implementation of REDD+ among the Khasi must take into account the lessons learnt from other pilot REDD+ projects in order to avoid the following:

(i) Human Rights Violations One of the primary concerns regarding the implementation of REDD+ around the world is that it could lead to potential human rights violations. Such violations may primarily concern property rights and human environmental rights (Burkett, 2008). Issues over indigenous land tenure and the equitable benefit distribution of resource user rights are often raised whenever mechanisms such as REDD+ or CDM are implemented. The impacts and implications of REDD+ associated human rights violations may occur along two distinct but interconnected spectra which Hite (2004: 5) describes as procedural and substantive rights, delineating them as follows: Procedural rights generally relate to inputs into decision-making, and include access to information, access to and transparency of proceedings, the right to be consulted or consent to decisions that may affect certain rights holders, and access to justice. Substantive rights pertain more to outcomes and underlying interests and include, e.g., cultural, spiritual, and natural resource rights (including forest ecosystems).

Climate change mitigation mechanisms such as REDD+ cannot benefit local stakeholders unless their procedural rights are given due respect. This implies, that even before a project is implemented, project proponents must include local communities in the project planning process as well as in decision-making, giving them the right to “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC). In the event of a possible infraction of project regulations or parameters resulting in the infringement of the rights and privileges of local stakeholders, the said locals should have access to modes and avenues for seeking just compensation and punitive action. However, the possibility remains that CCM mechanisms may be implemented by proponents without the complete knowledge, consent or involvement of local communities. Secondly, they may result in an infringement upon the rights of indigenous communities with regard to land tenure, community forest user rights and resource extraction, as well as decision-making with regard to the project. A lack of codified,


Chapter Fifteen

legitimate rules and regulations may create a legal gap through which infringements on the said rights may be brought about. Local communities often view the right to know, determine and authorise what activities are taking place on their land as a basic human right. Any curtailment of these rights may be considered an infringement by local communities and may be met with hostility if the said curtailment is imposed by non-local stakeholders. Local communities must be informed of the stipulations of a project (e.g. rights that would have to be curtailed or resource extraction that is to be prohibited) before they give their consent to it. Communities must impress upon proponents the need to keep all involved informed of the project's progress and ensure that no decision is taken without consulting all stakeholders. While it is difficult to predict all the possible outcomes of a project, it is crucial to project and declare the probable impacts it is likely to have on community substantive rights, especially with regard to their traditional land tenure and resource extraction rights. REDD+ does not include the trade of carbon credits obtained from monoculture plantations thus negating the threat of land acquisition by non-local stakeholders and interest groups for the purpose of establishing such plantations. However, it is to be noted that once forested land is designated for REDD+, it is likely that restrictions will be instituted on resource extraction, especially with regard to timber and fuel wood. Access to REDD+ designated forests may be reserved for project proponents, employees and associates only. This may be perceived as an infringement on indigenous rights. In Nepal for example, in order to ensure that the maximum quantity of carbon is sequestered, local Community Forest User Groups (CFUGs) have decreased not only the amount of timber and fuel-wood harvested but also the amount of NTFPs extracted from REDD+ designated forests. Such NTFPs include fodder grass, leaf litter, etc. The number of livestock allowed to graze in the forests has also been reduced (Maraseni et al., 2014). In the case of the Ulu Masen REDD+ Project in Aceh, Indonesia, local leaders while strongly supporting forest conservation have been described as being “not yet satisfied with the extent to which traditional rights of communities to manage and use forests are being fulfilled” (Eklöf, 2013: 18). A number of other scholars also hold to the view that implementing REDD+ could restrict the forest resource extraction rights and practices being performed under existing CBFM regimes in forests managed by indigenous communities, thus, severely impacting their lives and livelihoods [Neupane and Shrestha, 2012; Bushley and Khatri, 2011 (Note 7); Schwarte, 2010]. Turner and Daily (2008: 26-27), in commenting on the

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


difficulties in assigning value to ecosystem services elaborate on what they term as “institutional failure” by stating that: ...the beneficiaries of ecosystem service provision are often different and distant from those who gain from ecosystem transformation. Local socioecological contexts, including property rights and institutions, are often not given sufficient consideration in conservation programmes, so that legitimacy and equity concerns inhibit uptake.

Since CBFM regimes among indigenous communities are often complex systems comprised of practices that are developed out of a nuanced interplay between cultural, socio-economic, political and ecological factors, Bluffstone et al., (2013: 43-52) argue that the implementation of REDD+ runs the risk of destabilising or negatively altering them. To avoid this, extensive project planning is required with the aim of integrating REDD+ into existing CBFM regimes. Cooperation between non-local project proponents and local stakeholders is required such that the impacts of resource restrictions on forested land designated for REDD+ are offset by the provision of alternative sources of either resources or livelihoods. Since the vast majority of forested lands in Meghalaya are under the control of indigenous communities and local forms of government, mechanisms such as REDD+ cannot conceivably achieve their mandate without the cooperation of the said communities. Such cooperation implies a need for transparency and respect on the part of all involved, whether they are local communities or project proponents. Extensive planning must be carried out prior to implementing REDD+ so as to determine and preemptively mitigate possible issues that may arise concerning the substantive rights of local stakeholders.

(ii) Leakage, Permanence and Additionality van Oosterzee et al., (2012: 266-273) referred to leakage, permanence and additionality as the “unholy trinity” of avoided deforestation. These three factors exert significant influence over the efficacy and effectiveness of REDD+. Leakage occurs when the impacts of carbon stocks sequestered, protected and enhanced within a designated area are offset by activities that reduce carbon stocks such as deforestation, in an adjacent area. Henders and Ostwald (2012: 34) define carbon leakage as: ...the displacement of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from one place to another due to emission reduction activities. It is caused by a direct or


Chapter Fifteen indirect shift of activities that creates those emissions from within an emissions accounting system to out of that system.

Among indigenous communities, many of whom are dependent on income generating activities that are also responsible for carbon emissions, the curtailment of such activities on account of avoiding deforestation based CCM mechanisms such as REDD+ without the provision of alternative sources of income to compensate for the loss may encourage them to continue their carbon emitting activities outside the project area. Communities that do not possess formal, legally recognised, enforceable forest user rights may not receive adequate benefits from a project (Smith and Scherr, 2003: 2143-2160), thus prompting them to engage in leakage inducing activities outside the project area. According to Wunder (2008: 65-76): ...a farm-level payment for an environmental services (PES) programme may reward the landowner for not deforesting the PES-enrolled forest plot A during five years. However, if the owner shifted all planned deforestation from plot A to another, non PES-enrolled plot B, mitigation would be entirely offset by leakage or “displacement of emissions”.

Yanai et al. (2012: 78-91) observed the negative impacts incurred by leakage on carbon offsets in the Juma reserve in Peru. Moreover, leakage is often difficult to quantify (Murray et al., 2003; Geres and Michaelowa, 2002; Maraseni et al., 2014). If a great number of locals engage in a wide spectrum of leakage inducing activities at various sites outside the project area, the contribution of each to overall leakage would be difficult to ascertain. In the case of the N'hambita Community Carbon Project in Mozambique, Jindal et al. (2012) observed that 15% of all REDD+ revenues were set aside as a buffer to compensate for inter alia leakage while the remainder was put up for sale on the international carbon market. Leakage is an important consideration as an exclusive focus on the area within the project boundaries may not adequately reflect the net environmental effect of the project. There is thus, a need to closely monitor the areas where potential leakage can occur nearby. REDD+ implementation in areas and among communities that lack a pre-existing CBFM regime may incur greater incidence of leakage since there exists no framework of regulations restricting or controlling forest resource extraction in patches of forest outside the project. Among the Khasis, leakage may be addressed by strengthening and enforcing CBFM regulations, restrictions and penalties in community forests outside the

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


project area as well. If REDD+ revenues are sufficient to fund or support activities that can provide alternative income or resources, community interest in enforcing CBFM regimes both within and outside the project area may also be encouraged. However, with regard to activities carried out on privately owned or clan owned land over which CBFM regimes may retain less authority, setting aside a percentage of the REDD+ revenue may help to compensate for leakage as has been practised in Mozambique (ibid.). Permanence refers to the issue of whether the carbon sequestered in forest biomass would remain so for any significant period of time. According to Dutschke (2001: 7), many environmentalists are of the view that: conserving or increasing carbon stocks in biomass are very uncertain measures to combat climate change. They claim that forest conservation and afforestation or reforestation can only offset GHG emissions from fossil fuel burning if the near infinite existence of forests can be assured.

In order to ensure the permanence of carbon stocks, one must ensure the survival and existence of forests against human activities as well as natural disasters such as natural forest fires, earthquakes and landslides (Note 8). Among communities such as the Khasi, pre-existing CBFM regimes have managed, with varying success to help ensure the protection of community forests from human activities and forest fires. REDD+ can function in tandem with the said regimes to help enhance efforts to maintain permanence. However, little can be done to ensure forest protection from natural cataclysms. Additionality is the term used to refer to the amount of carbon sequestered in the project area which would not have been sequestered in the project's absence. Hufty and Haakenstad define additionality as “the idea that reduction in deforestation [under the project] should be greater than what would have occurred otherwise” (2011: 5). Additionality can include not only emissions reductions from enhancement of carbon stocks but also improvements in “co-benefits” which include the conservation of biodiversity and livelihoods (Newton et al., 2015: 27-37). The reduction in deforestation activities and impacts on account of the implementation of REDD+ should exceed the reduction that would have occurred in the project’s absence. Newton et al., (2015) argue that in the case of preexisting community forest management regimes which are already achieving REDD+ objectives, the burden of proof would fall upon REDD+ proponents to show how their REDD+ project can enhance carbon stocks and carbon sequestration rates at CBFM sites.

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In the Khasi context, enforcing existing CBFM regimes both within and outside the project area might to a limited extent guard against leakage and ensure permanence. However, further curtailing the user rights of local people on their own private or clan land is difficult to execute and may foster negative sentiments towards project proponents. The permanence of forests cannot be ensured in light of possible natural disasters such as earthquakes and cyclones. Additionality is achievable if REDD+ can undertake certain measures: a. Build upon existing local CBFM regimes and succeed where they have failed; b. Create awareness among these regimes on the need to compensate for what they have taken from the forest resources through ANR; c. Provide livelihood and income generating opportunities for local communities.

(iii) Commoditization of Nature One of the possible negative outcomes to be guarded against when delving into projects such as REDD+ is the tendency towards the commoditization of nature. Wilson (2013: 86-87) argues that the trade in carbon credits as part of a “Green Economy” runs the risk of commoditizing nature and lists the following factors that would exert a negative influence: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Ecosystem services are inherently difficult to price; The consideration of the rebound effect is insufficient (Note 9); Primacy of economics over the environment is ensured; Markets offer little protection for the poorest people; Existing market mechanisms aimed at safeguarding the environment have not succeeded.

Ecosystem services are quantified and assigned a monetary value primarily based on the benefits they can yield for human beings. However, as Turner and Daily (2008) point out there are important considerations that must be addressed with regard to valuing ecosystem services. Human understanding of the role ecosystem services play in nature and their impact on human life is limited. Wilson (2013: 87) argues that our knowledge of how ecosystems function is entirely inadequate to contemplate such crude valuations. Thus, when an ecosystem service is assigned value, the value assigned is based upon a possibly incomplete understanding of the role that service plays in benefitting not only human beings but the rest of the

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


ecosystem as well. This “information failure” (Turner and Daily, 2008: 26) they opine, is why investment in conservation is comparatively low. Secondly, among rural indigenous communities living in developing countries, socio-economic problems often take precedence over environmental issues. Even if attempts are made to arrive at a joint solution for the two through CCM mechanisms, PES schemes and ventures such as ecotourism, it is most likely inevitable that the local proponents will perceive the need for the improvement of their economic situation as more important than protecting their environment. With unemployment being a major issue in Meghalaya, it is highly probable that this will be true among the Khasi community as well. The protection and enhancement of carbon stocks for the purpose of trade on the international carbon market may take precedence over activities such as biodiversity conservation, the benefits of which may be more difficult to quantify. REDD+ may be able to enhance the relevance of traditional CBFM regimes but primarily by incentivizing them and related activities. This involves placing a monetary value on nature and the services it renders. For a community like the Khasi whose culture has always promoted a respect for and even a veneration of nature, there also exists the possibility of a backlash arising among communities against the thought of reducing their environment to the level of a mere commodity. On the other hand, in light of the growing economic and employment problems of the State, assigning value to the natural environment and ecosystem services, through an incentive system may also have a negative religio-cultural impact: the erosion of what Lyngdoh (2015: 123) dubs the “triadic relationship continuum” (Note 10) that characterises the Khasi worldview regarding the link between man and nature. Driven by poverty and socioeconomic needs, locals may develop an affinity for commoditization through mechanisms such as REDD+, which may cause them to view their forests more as commercial and financial assets than as living components of their culture and identity. If this occurs, the religio-cultural value of forests may decline in the view of locals. In other words, REDD+ may contribute to the process of the declining “sacredness” of nature in local perceptions. There exist therefore, two extreme possibilities with regard to indigenous responses to REDD+ regarding commoditization: (1) a growing affinity for commoditization via REDD+; and (2) the alienation of local communities on account of cultural averseness towards commoditization as perceived in the REDD+ programme. It is thus, important to emphasise and to communicate that the project is not solely a means of putting a price on the inherent value of nature, but rather it offers a way of encouraging and


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preserving these age-old values while acknowledging the need to recognise the practical realities of the present society and to help the community in return, via the various incentives offered as part of the project.

(iv) Loss of Biodiversity Another aspect of the project that must be closely monitored is the potential risk of a loss of biodiversity in the project area and the areas surrounding it. REDD+ with its emphasis on trade in carbon stocks sequestered in old growth/natural growth forests, is free of the disadvantages that plague carbon trade schemes involving monoculture plantations (e.g. projects under the Clean Development Mechanism), such as the cultivation of exotic (potentially invasive) species, etc. However, REDD+ proponents in their efforts to ensure maximum carbon offsets may give rise to the loss of biodiversity as a trade-off (Phelps et al., 2012: 5360). The reverse may also be true (Phelps et al., 2012; Harvey et al., 2010; Paoli et al., 2010). Duque et al. (2014: 186) argue that: Applying the principles of carbon-centric protection strategies can have positive effects on reducing CO2 emissions due to deforestation, but may have negative effects on species diversity by increasing extinction risk of endemic species, especially of non-tree growth forms such as epiphytes. Indeed, carbon-centric conservation strategies have the potential to increase risks of species extinctions in any areas where there is not a strong congruence between estimated-AGB [Above Ground Biomass] stocks and species diversity.

While regulations regarding the extraction of timber may become more stringent with the implementation of REDD+, regulations regarding the extraction of non-woody species such as orchids, may go on unimpeded and perhaps result in a loss of biodiversity. Also, implementing conservation measures within the REDD+ project area may give cause to local communities to transfer activities that are detrimental to biodiversity, outside the said area. This form of leakage could offset conservation efforts within the project area by incurring biodiversity loss in the areas outside the project jurisdiction (Phelps et al., 2012; Harvey et al., 2010; Paoli et al., 2010). In order to avoid the dangers of biodiversity loss in regions selected for the implementation of REDD+ projects, Harrison and Paoli (2012: 430) suggest the setting up of plans for “...potential incentives includ[ing] biodiversity offsetting or other (non-carbon-based) payment for environmental services (PES) schemes, which can provide alternative

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


or supplementary finance alongside REDD+ to protect forests”. These negative impacts on biodiversity may be mitigated if REDD+ activities are expanded to include biodiversity conservation through campaigns, tree adoption, sapling cultivation via tree nurseries, ANR, ecotourism, etc.

(v) Problems Regarding Equity, Benefit Sharing and Transparency One of the greatest challenges in the successful implementation of climate change mitigation mechanisms is the issue of transparency and equitable benefit distribution. It is difficult to ensure that a project maintains acceptable levels of transparency with regard to decision-making, design, impact assessment, budgeting, funding, financial transactions, etc. While equitable benefit sharing is likely to foster inclusion of marginalised communities, ensure sustainability and, if transparency is maintained, help gain the interest of investors as well as keep up with long-term financial commitments (Peskett, 2011), ascertaining whether such benefits are materialising in actuality, is largely dependent on the transparency of the project as maintained by its proponents. This problem plagues REDD+ because it is a mechanism which deals with the placing of a monetary value on conservation efforts, running the risk of the potential misuse and misappropriation of the financial incentives that drive the project (Schneider, 2011: 130-145). Peruvian communities living in the Ampiyacu-Apayacu area have voiced concerns over a lack of trust in the local leaders and institutions and fears over the potential misuse of funds and revenues garnered through REDD+, if project funds and finances are administered by local leaders and institutions (Evans et al., 2014: 98-108). It is notable, that the majority of respondents suggested that equitable benefit sharing would be better ensured if the local federations were bypassed altogether and the revenue distributed directly to the families (Ibid.). In the case of the Oddar Meanchey Community Forest REDD+ Project (OMCFRP) in Cambodia, at least 50% of net revenues from carbon emissions trading have been promised to the local participating communities (Yeang 2012; Yeang and Brewster, 2012). Despite this however, it is notable that actual numerical values for the division and distribution of monetary/financial benefits could not be completely furnished. Terra Global Capital indicate that their share is “far less than 10%” (Eklöf, 2013: 17) with details regarding the division of benefits among local stakeholders remaining unclear. Eklöf (Ibid.) goes on to state that in January 2012, Pact drafted a budget for the project based on the 30 year work plan but had done so without the active involvement of either


Chapter Fifteen

the Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC) or the local NGO. In the case of REDD+ projects implemented among indigenous communities, the aim of providing livelihood and socio-economic benefits to local stakeholders would be significantly hampered by a lack of documentation and transparency making it likely that benefits may not be equitably distributed among locals. Therefore, it is vital for the survival of such projects that a thorough system of checks and balances is employed. Close monitoring of the financial details should be observed by independent authorities to guarantee fairness and transparency in order to ensure that the benefits reach the community, which will further encourage participation by its members in the project and others like it in the future. The institution of periodic performance based payment regimes and mechanisms subject to third party scrutiny is advisable. Regular evaluations of the project and the issuance of remuneration based on the verification of emissions reductions incurred by it would help to ensure that the project functions properly.

Conclusion The Khasis of Meghalaya have always been a people with a rich heritage of traditional practices, whose wisdom has only been affirmed with the progress of science and the growth of knowledge. With the forces of modernisation and privatisation, there is a need for the revitalisation of various such traditional Khasi institutions, including those that are catering to traditional modes and methods of conservation and natural resource management. One of the routes towards this revival and revitalisation could be the adoption of current methods of resource management and adapting them to the CBFM regimes. The implementation of mechanisms such as REDD+ has the potential of serving the purposes of preserving age-old traditional institutions and regimes that have inherent strengths by infusing them with a new sense of relevance; enhancing the conservation of natural resources, catering to the local need for income and livelihoods, and ensuring that local communities once again regain a sense of ownership of the institutions they have, as a people, inherited. While there are numerous potential benefits to be derived from such projects, it is also of prime importance to pay equal attention to the potential dangers and threats posed to local communities and their physical and socio-economic environment. These include the potential violation of their human rights, the problems caused by leakage, permanence and additionality, the tendency to lapse towards an attitude of commoditizing nature and a

Climate Change Mitigation and Traditional Institutions


misuse of benefits, perpetuated through a lack of transparency, inadequate documentation, and the inequitable distribution of funds and revenue, which could prevent the community from deriving the actual benefits of their efforts. If REDD+ is to be implemented in other parts of Meghalaya, its potential benefits, disadvantages and lessons learnt from existing projects such as USRWP must also be taken into account. Acknowledgement: The authors would like to thank Mr. Tambor Lyngdoh, Project Director of the Umiam Subwatershed REDD+ Project, Mawphlang, and his team for the information and assistance they have provided. Gratitude also goes to Dr. Mark Poffenberger, Executive Director, Community Forestry International for his invaluable inputs.

Notes 1. Common Pool Resources or Common Property Resources which are owned and administered by a community, from which members of the community can extract a fixed allocation of said resources, which in turn reduces the amount available for others. 2. An indigenous form of government corresponding to a chieftainship. 3. The Watershed Federation is called Ka Synjuk ki Hima Ar Liang ka Wah Umiam. 4. In addition to respiration, carbon emissions from forests may occur due to the loss of carbon stocks on account of forest fires, shifting cultivation, deforestation, etc. 5. Jindal et al. (2012) observed that revenue from REDD+ implemented under the N'hambita Carbon Project in Mozambique was used to employ fire patrols. 6. It is to be noted however, that implementing REDD+ in an area where rules and regulations for land and resource use have yet to be codified or formally recognised may give rise to conflicts over land tenure and forest user rights. 7. Bushley and Khatri (2011: 23) conclude that the interaction between government agencies, existing institutions and REDD+ point to a “recentralization of forest governance, and a corresponding loss of local autonomy”. 8. Efforts to protect forests against human induced landslides and artificial forest fires are a viable option. 9. The “Rebound Effect” is an umbrella term used to describe various phenomena, whereby potential energy savings to be achieved via the use of more efficient technology are negated to an extent by unintended and unforeseen consequences resulting from various behavioural and economic responses which can lead to an overall increase in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 10. S. S. Lyngdoh states that the Khasis view nature as sacred because they hold to


Chapter Fifteen the understanding that there exists an “existential continuum of humans, nature and God” which he describes as an “inseparable relationship of communion” between these three.

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