By Toki Blah
Concerns have been frequently expressed regarding the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), the 6th Schedule of the Constitution and inter alia the relevance of the provisions of this Schedule to the NE Region in the 21st Century. Very strong views prevail on the subject but consensus does exist to the effect that there is now urgent need for a review of the entire 6th Schedule and wherever possible to identify issues and areas where course correction and even amendments to this unique Schedule of the Indian Constitution should be made. The objective of such an exercise should focus on making the 6th Schedule and its provisions relevant and pertinent to the present and future needs of the Indigenous people of the region. If however the 6th Schedule is to be flawed on any aspect, it is the propagation of an idea that we, the Tribals of the NE are different! The Constituent Assembly perhaps meant otherwise but exploitative politics has taken this idea to ridiculous heights. True we do have different features; different cultural practices; speak a different language; possess perhaps a different mindset. These are characteristics we are now constantly reminded of. On the other hand as people, similar to other people, we also need to grow; to feel secure of our tomorrow; to enjoy a sense of social wellbeing; to enjoy freedom in all its nuances. These are aspects that seldom find expression in NE Policies. There is need to question this paradox.
Taken from this perspective another damaging belief prevailing in 6th Schedule areas is the belief that the past is inviolable and that is what the Schedule is all about. NGOs dub anyone who advocate change as a traitor. We need to challenge such views as these are constrains that have curbed the tribals of the NE from ever having a vision for themselves and the Khasis are one of the victims of such mental confinements. How can you look forward when you’re constantly being reminded that there is no future and that the past is the best thing that could ever happen to us? To survive therefore we need a paradigm change in how we see ourselves 50, 80 100 years from now. People talk of development forgetting that in the final analysis development is all about transforming society, from a lower level to a higher level. The indicators of transformation are education, health, the sense of well-being, the ability to integrate with others and the willingness to welcome change. It happened to Hynniewtrep and Achik society 150 years ago with the introduction of the Roman script and propagation of literacy. We are what we are because our forefathers embraced change and societal transformation took place. Today a reverse reaction is taking place. We of this generation are resisting change; we see it as traumatic and dangerous. This opposition to change is being led by ignorant self proclaimed patriots. It’s really very simple. If we are ready for change, salvation will again be through transformation. Opposition to change will only spell stagnation and a death knell for our future generations. We have to choose and choose wisely.
Of concern is the increasing inability of society to project, promote and elect leaders with vision. Energy has been spent in promoting leaders who are experts in projecting fear. Meghalaya is the result of our projected fear over Assamese domination. Now we have leaders asking for a separate Khasi state or Garo state because we fear each other. We are in constant fear of being overwhelmed by outsiders; fear over the alienation of our land; fear that our culture will become extinct. In the process the interest of the community has been sold to the highest bidder by the very leaders who promote fear. No one is ready to admit that our culture is being threatened not by outsiders but by the idiot box we ourselves install in our bedrooms and by an inane obsession to imitate the west. The political mindset is driven by a fear that one day the common man might just become educated; enabled and empowered enough to upset the political gravy train. Transformation is what the state needs but will spell doom to the politics of patronage that prevails in Meghalaya. Question is how to make it come about?
The answer to the above might just lie somewhere in the 6th Schedule to the Constitution of India. In truth it can be said that the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India was designed to protect Tribal identity, preserve Tribal custom and tradition, and above all to enable and empower such tribals, to continue with their indigenous systems of management over their land, forests and natural resources which had sustained them through the ages. In the same breath the 6th Schedule also seeks to integrate such tribals into the socio-political experiment called the Independent Republic of India. The two statements above might sound contradictory but taken in their totality they in fact complement one another in that they provide space for modernity to amalgamate with tradition without risk of the latter losing its cultural fragrance. In short the 6th Schedule is a constitutional mechanism for the indigenous tribals of the region to legislate, adjudicate and regulate the social, cultural and economic development of their society and region in a manner which is amenable to both the past and the future. That we have simply concentrated on the past and ignored the future is a misfortune we have imposed upon ourselves. The point here is that the time has come for us to have a second look at the 6th Schedule; its Autonomous District Councils and attempt to review its potential as the safe harbinger of change for our people.
There is however popular belief ably advocated by the state administration that ADC governance is beyond redemption and should therefore be done away with. A view that conveniently forgets that the State Administration is no better and in fact is more riddled with corruption and a rising trend of deficiency in governance. Both institutions are committed towards service to the people which they attempt through a top down, target driven approach. It’s something that discourages transparency and accountability; something that encourages nepotism and feudalism in modern administration; a practice that prevents developmental sustainability to ever take root. It is not the institutions that are at fault but the manner in which they are managed and run. The World (UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People) and India (73rd Amendment) has accepted that peoples participation is the key to good governance and sustainable future development. Meghalaya too needs to take a serious second look at constitutional provisions that provide for (a) devolution of good governance to grass root institutions (b) community participation as the enduring factor towards sustainable Good Governance and (c) how to make the ADCs robust and relevant stakeholders in Meghalaya’s attempt towards overall sustainable development.
It now appears that there is serious thinking on the anvil of amending the 6th Schedule so that it would also serve the interest of other tribal areas of India other than the NE. To make such amendments meaningful and effective the following suggestions are made. (a) There should be a clear and distinct bifurcation of subjects between ADC and State. ADCs should have free and independent jurisdiction over subjects like Indigenous Culture and Identity; Control and management over land and water resources; they should be given full charge over introduction of grass roots governance as well as administration of justice at that level; and last but not least the promotion of traditional knowledge and wisdom should be left to ADCs (b) In the case of Meghalaya the anomaly of duplication of developmental efforts; of total ADC dependence on state funding; and of ADCs playing second fiddle to state administration has to end. The proposed amendments should include strict and vigorous provisions for capacity building; empowerment and awareness for all ADCs and the institutions they are supposed to look after. If direct funding to the ADCs is on the cards it would be criminal to proceed on political expediency alone without looking at sustainability and long term effectiveness.
There is also need to rethink on the composition of the ADCs. Tribal style of governance and traditional system of politics is totally at odds with the western concept of representation through adult suffrage based on the party system. Yet this is what has been imposed on an institution that is expected to uphold Tribal Custom and Tradition. I mean how stupid can one get. Today the ADCs are used mostly as training grounds for wannabe MLAs. It defeats the very purpose of the 6th Schedule. This does not in the least mean that the present MDCs be substituted by our traditional heads. These are equally bad; equally unfocused and equally unprepared to take charge. Bringing them in would only bring in superficial change without addressing the core issue of good governance – the ability of our political institutions to deliver on what people really need. We need to take up the issue not with the emotional and sentimental package that it has so far been wrapped in but address it in the context of a vision document that we have for ourselves. Let’s speak of the future and lace it with the wisdom of the past. Let’s not just simply glorify a mythical past at the cost of our future. (Author is President of ICARE and can be contacted at [email protected])