By Aristotle Lyngdoh
In the context of the present cultural and political pandemonium it is worthwhile to revisit the past through the various proceedings collected and published in the form of a book entitled, ‘Ka Thup Jingkynmaw Ϊa ka Khasi National Dorbar’ compiled by JK Tariang. The Working Committee of the Khasi National Dorbar Hall has done the right thing at the right time by publishing these detailed proceedings and putting them in the public domain so that the younger generation can fathom how the founders of our modern society displayed their skills and decorum while presenting their proposals and resolutions expressing their clear understanding about inducive justice and democracy of Khasi Dorbar. Above all, it also helps to understand the reason behind the then movement that brought the Khasi community into one political identity.
I consider this particular book as authentic evidence with valuable insights on the former days of Khasi political culture. It’s a must-read-book for everyone particularly for every social and political player including those who question the Indian identity that we now possess especially those brethren who are now in Bangladesh or somewhere else. This book should lay to rest all the rumours that attempt to blame the architect of the Sixth Schedule J.J.M Nichols Roy as a sole schemer that brought the Khasi & Jaiñtia Hills District (British Areas) and Khasi states into one platform within the Indian sub-continent, while on the other side praising Wickliffe Syiem a person who abdicated his responsibility and the core subject matter (the people). By reading through the speeches of various chiefs of Himas, Raids and Villages, I can understand that the evolution of the Khasi National Dorbar originated from people’s expectation for an ideal and moderate governance that can accommodate and accord necessary protection to the unique Khasi culture and community.
At the time the Khasis were also at the crossroads anticipating a possible transition of governance in the whole Indian sub-continent. Fearing alienation, disintegration and acculturation, few visionary leaders took the initiative that led to the foundation of The Khasi National Dorbar which also served as a Legislative Council to convince the Royal Commission that the Khasi states too like other native states are now organized and able to govern themselves.
As an effort made by these gentlemen to mobilize public opinion amidst difficult communication system of those days, I hardly find any reason to attribute political motives or agree to the allegations of self-centredness by anyone. Also there was no better option than what these leaders have decided in order to give us a better legacy today. Those who think otherwise are wrong because they have misread the progressive minds of that time. During the various meetings from 1923-29, the primary concerns of those leaders was on the “Ka Aiñ Jinglong-Khun-Hima ha Ri Khasi” or citizenship law in Khasi states (I prefer sonship law to convey the appropriate intention for the word ‘khun’) and “Ka Aiñ-Bri-Khyndew” (Laws pertaining to different types of land). Secondly is the matter of issuing authority of Sanad to various Syiems and Chiefs by low ranking officials. Thirdly, the intention to merge Khasi states with other provinces besides, the need to change certain rules and regulations to accommodate women participation in the Dorbar and governance. These are few of the issues besides many others concerning Khasi society. Apart from the chieftains and heads of all Himas, people, sordars, prominent personalities involved in the above were Join Manik Syiem, Olim Singh Syiem, Kmuin Manik Syiem, J.J.M.Nichols Roy, Joab Solomon, Rai Sahib Hormu Rai Diengdoh, Assiam Lyngdoh, U Chandra Nath Roy, etc.
In the words of the Secretary of the Dorbar, “Our land all along has its own laws or system of citizenship or sonship in the Hima in all Khasi states. Unless these laws are written down, they will only remain in the minds of people with everyone giving his own version”.
Rai Sahib Hormu Rai Diengdoh said, “From the beginning, ownership of every Hima lies with the people. They installed a Syiem and Hima is not a rightful land of the Syiem. The Syiem was implanted on the top like a flower”. Borkusañ Syiem of Khyrim also reiterated the same saying, “Initially in Ri Khasi there existed villages with their own Lyngdoh (priest) and then they looked for the Syiem and thereafter a tax or contribution to support the office of the Hima”. One by one every leader from every nook and corner echoed the same feeling with regard to this issue that people are the primary owners of land and then followed the division on the types of land and forests in every hima. Therefore, this law of citizenship or sonship particularly refers to the situation that any person has the same right of citizenship when he moves from one Hima (state) to another on account of reasons or situations unavoidable for that person and he/she should get same and equal treatment from the administrator of the Hima (state). It is also interesting to note on the definition of ‘Khasi’ and ‘criteria for membership’ as indicated in these laws it states that, “A Khasi is a person male or female (1) Born from a Khasi parent, (2) either one of the parents is a Khasi and (3) Anybody who has married a Khasi. Whereas, the criteria for membership in the Hima (state) is (1) by birth, (2) by marriage and (3) by having his house or land in that Hima (state).
Looking at these forgotten traditional laws, I feel the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution evolved because of these old laws that those leaders wanted to streamline and perpetuate among their people. Mr. J. Rynjah, CEM of United Khasi & Jaiñtia Hills DC in his speech on 24th Sept 1952 says “A nation is not a mere mob of people but organized people. In the DC there is ample scope to carry forward valuable laws for the good of everyone”. Therefore, the core issue lying before the District Council should be on these issues rather than attempting to emerge as another alternative government in a traditional mould but with all the fancies of an urban jurisdiction. In the pursuit to become influential, we have lost track somewhere and discarded essential practices and traditions. Lest we forget, what we have actually forgotten, the future that we wanted apart from technological advances, is the social fabric postulated in these forgotten laws.
On the issue of sanad, the Syiem of Sohra said, “From the very beginning when the British came they recognized our system and duly issue a sanad sealed and signed by the Governor General of India, but subsequently the authority that signed the sanad has been transferred to the Governor of a Province and now to the Deputy Commissioner and in the future by a much lower staff perhaps. This shows the derogatory attitude towards the Khasi states and chiefs”. It is in the interest and pride of the people to elevate the status of Khasi states when the recognition comes from the highest authority such as the Governor General.
Finally it was JJM Nichols Roy’s desire and advocacy that persuaded the Dorbar to change certain rules in order to make room for women’s participation in the same process of governance by foreseeing how to equate them with other women of advanced cultures of the world.