Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review of "Lamchwa" on

Excerpts from the review:

 By all means, this is a very simple novel and at the same time reminds me of the novels by Thomas Hardy which focused only on the ‘uncommon episodes of common life’. You will simply love this novel once you go through it. There is no super-fiction; there is no romance which extrapolates to semi-pornographic details in the modern writing; there is no thriller which becomes mere superficiality in the modern novels… and yet, in all the terms, the novel Lamchwa is complete in itself! I have really liked the novel too much and would recommend all the readers of fiction to go through the same. Happy reading folks!

Read the full review here:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Alok Mishra's review of the book "Lamchwa"

Excerpts of the review:

The Amazing things that I found in this simple novel, simply written and simply ended, is the wonderful and calm atmosphere! There is no noise at all and that’s wonderful! The 190 pages of the novel will last a few hours and the readers can enjoy the novel with a calm breeze… you must remember those days when you used to read George Eliot in an idle day and just feeling relaxed. Lamchwa is not a fancy tale; it’s not a vampire’s diary nor it is a Harry Potter’s Wonderland and neither the la la land of modern authors. The novelist has shown that stories about common human beings and a simple plot can also make the novel wonderful. Amidst the plain tale of Lamchwa, there are full many things which a novel should have – pathos, conflict, emotions and a message, most importantly. If one goes deeper, Pynhun’s research discloses that the river has almost been polluted completely because of the mining and there should be a balance between our needs and nature’s. So, there is an ecocritical angle as well…

 Please click on link to read the full review:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Enigma of rock sculptures and engravings in Jaiñtia Hills

D. R. Michael Buam

The Khasi and Jaiñtia hills are abundant in relics of the past which are more evident in the monoliths, dolmens and menhirs which stand till today as reminders of the glorious and colourful history of the indigenous people of the region. But sadly, no written records exist (or are yet to be found) of the early history of these people. Notably, oral tradition tells us that the Khasi tribes have swallowed their books (U Khasi u la nguid ïa ka kot) and therefore have lost their script forever. Another oral tradition (among the War-Jaiñtia) points to the supposition that the scribes among the Khasi tribes were a revered group who became extinct at some point in history. The term used for them, "Prai-Dia" literally means 'god of the cloth' which is suggestive that they wrote on cloth.  
Remnants of a once thriving weekly market at Moopat in East Jaiñtia Hills of Meghalaya.

It was only in 1842 that the Rev. Thomas Jones undertook to re-create the Khasi alphabets using the Roman script. Since then, the people have produced writings across all literary genres. And although the early history of the people which has been passed down the generations by oral tradition has also been reflected in some literary works, not much light has been shed on the actual dates and events in particular, barring a few that have appeared in the ‘Buranjis’ of Assam and Tripura and the accounts of the British officers and scholars who have served in the region from the early 19th century till India’s independence from British rule in 1947.
Arched stone bridge built during the reign of Jaiñtia Kings near Syndai in West Jaiñtia Hills.

Therefore, the ancient and medieval history of the Khasi and Jaiñtia hills still remain an incomplete study which only archaeologists and historians can complete (or try to). The contribution of historical linguist to the study would definitely add clarity to the picture and even researchers of other disciplines can also shed light to this under-developed picture. Genetical studies, for one, has helped a lot to shed more light in the study of history and ancient civilizations and can change the current perception on what we have learnt so far. While recent carbon dating of a few iron smelting sites point to the people’s antiquity, (see Prokop and Suliga) underground excavations have scarcely been done to dig out the ancient history of the people in Khasi and Jaiñtia hills. The only excavation we have come to know of was done (by Dr. Marco Mitri and his team) around the Lum Sohpetbneng area and it does support the existence of a civilisation whose myths were centred round the Lum Sohpetbneng near the present-day man-made Umïam lake near Shillong. Prominent author and journalist, Sumar Singh Sawian has brought out a book, Ka Thymmei Lariti, based on this.
Elephant rock sculpture at Ampubon near Syndai village in West Jaiñtia Hills.

Oral tradition, as we know it, has been subjected to embellishments as well as deletions. It sometimes also creates confusion through existence of varying versions of a particular event or person. This is clearly evident in the 3 to 4 different versions of the legend of “Ka Lidakha” which tells of the origin of the Jaiñtia kings. However, in spite of its demerits, oral tradition still remains the chief source of early history of Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills and if not recorded would soon get eroded or buried into antiquity.
Stone bridge at Thlumuwi in West Jaiñtia Hills.

And it is on oral tradition that this article relies to try to understand the existing rock engravings and sculptures found in Jaiñtia Hills. In the midst of the realities already presented above, we are presented with the relics of the past which are difficult to explain in the absence of written records. This leaves much room for speculation. Here, the imagination of the human mind comes to play and naiveté serves to propagate misinformation. In the scheme of daily life, especially in this hectic world, rumination and contemplation have become scarce.
The Rupasor Bathing Ghat of the Jaiñtia Royals dug in a rock at Ampubon near Syndai village.

Jaiñtia hills has its fair share (if not more) of evidences of past events through the monoliths, remnants of haats (weekly markets) and structures that stand till today besides the awe-inspiring stone bridges that have withstood the natural forces of weathering and decay till today. It is the human activities that are more threatening to these relics. A notable point in this observation is the absence of engravings and sculptures in the central part of Jaiñtia hills. This may be proven to be wrong (I hope so) but till now, nothing has been reported to the contrary. The sculptures and engravings we have observed so far are seen in the areas that adjoin a different culture.
Rock surfaces on the west bank of the Tisang (Myntdu) River near Pasadwar village in West Jaiñtia Hills bear several engravings of Hindu culture and local myths. 

In the south Jaiñtia hills, (i.e. the War-Jaiñtia area), we encounter engravings of Hindu culture and faith, such as the ‘Trishul’ engraved at different periods on the rocks that embank the Tisang river (known as the Myntdu river in its upper reaches) near Psadwar village. The Jaiñtia kings, who also ruled over the plains of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) besides their traditional kingdom in Jaiñtia hills were liberal and therefore accepted Hindu beliefs. Hence we see the engraving of the Hindu deity ‘Ganesh’ on the path leading to a cave in Syndai village where Hindu pilgrims used to visit on the annual occasion of ‘Shiv Ratri’. We also see the rock-cut sculpture of Ganesh cut on the rock in the bathing pool of the Jaiñtia royalty at the Rupasor bathing ghat near Syndai village on the road to Muktapur, a border village through which the ancient road to Jaiñtiapur (the winter capital of the Jaiñtia kings) passes through.
Image of Lord Ganesha carved in a rock near Syndai village in West Jaiñtia Hills.

The only reference to local culture can be seen in the engraving of “U Khmi” (Earthquake) which is found on a rock on the banks of the Tisang river near Psadwar. Oral tradition tells us that “U Khmi” was a giant residing under the surface of the earth and the earthquakes that we feel are the result of him moving his body parts. He was said to be so powerful that if he moved either both his arms and hands, the earth would crumble. Therefore, his mother cut off his ear on one side and one side of his limbs so that he will not be able to destroy the earth. This legend is depicted in the moss-covered engraving that is seen till today. Near this engraving a little downstream, we can also find the engravings of what the locals claim to be of Rama and Lakhsmana on a rock and nearer still is found an engraving of a tiger and a woman. Though a clear explanation of the engravings are lacking, they still remain as mute witnesses of a time gone by.
Representation of "U Khmi" found on the west bank of River Tisang (Myntdu) near Pasadwar village in West Jaiñtia Hills.

The representation of the sun and moon on stone are found close to the Rupasor bathing ghat and the sculptures of small elephants are found on the stream called Ampubon, also situated near the Rupasor bathing ghat. These sculptures are indicative of the influence of Hindu culture and were most probably made during the reign of the Jaiñtia kings. Arched stone bridges, most probably belonging to the 18th century AD are to be found near the Rupasor bathing ghat. These are testimony of the Jaiñtia Kingdom’s legacy.
"U Moo-syiem" representing an unnamed king of the past at Khanduli village in West Jaiñtia Hills.

In Khanduli, a village in the northern part of Jaiñtia hills, adjoining the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, we find engravings on rocks that depict a soldier or a king. One of the engravings has been destroyed due to a road constructed on its location. Probably, the engraving had gone unnoticed or ignored by the labourers, but the elderly residents still recall it in their memory. Fortunately, a similar engraving has been preserved by thoughtful individuals, which we find on the outskirts of the village to the north. This engraving has been fenced off and marked to protect it from being destroyed. However, traces of paint are seen on the face of the engraving which otherwise still remains intact. Below the image of the soldier (or king) is juxtaposed an image of a woman (maybe of the queen). Only detailed studies can reveal the true meaning of the engravings. But the local name of the engraving on rock does point to a king being its subject. Local tradition refers to it as the “Moo-Syiem” (King’s rock/stone) although it does not refer to a name or age.
Engraving of an animal (Tiger?) and a woman found on the western bank of Tisang (Myntdu) River near Pasadwar village.

The most interesting engraving or rock sculpture in Jaiñtia hills may be ascribed to the rock carving of a Vulva situated on the outskirts of Lum Lakhiat village (Near Khanduli). The vulva has been carved on a rock which is about 15 feet wide and 5 feet off the higher ground. The engraving is a larger than life representation of the female genital and is inconspicuous to the normal eye because of the creepers growing on the rock and also because of the vegetation growing around it which camouflages it from the ordinary eye. I call it interesting because it evokes several questions to which the answers seem elusive. The present villagers of Lum Lakhiat have no knowledge of its origin. Most of them are unaware of its presence because it is situated away from the village on a hill, but close to their paddy fields.
The carving of a vulva on a rock on the outskirts of Lumlakhiat village in West Jaiñtia Hills

We may probably never know who made it and when, but why was it made and for what purposes? Was it a product of voyeurism or was it made by someone who had nothing better to do? Or, could it be the work of someone inspired by creative thought? I am inclined to link it to Yoni-worship which is prevalent even today in India. The vulva engraved on this rock is similar to that at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati in Assam (a neighbour of Meghalaya). Kamakhya is one of the most visited ‘Shakti Peethas’ by Hindu pilgrims. Meghalaya also boasts of a “Shakti Peetha” located at Nartiang in Jaiñtia hills, which happens to be quite close (about 35 Kms) to Lum Lakhiat towards the South. This proximity of the vulva engraving at Lum Lakhiat to the “Shakti Peetha” at Nartiang does suggest that perhaps during the reign of the Jaiñtia Kings (who were patrons of Hinduism), Yoni-worship was practised by some of their subjects which slowly discontinued with the decline of the kingdom after the British annexation in 1835 AD.
Images (purportedly) of Ram and Lakhan on a rock on the western bank of Tisang (Myntdu) River near Pasadwar village. 

There is another sculpture at Kseh Rynchang (also near Khanduli) which is now broken and removed from its original location during the construction of a road there. It now lies face down beside the tri-junction of the main road to Khanduli. People of the village say that there were two sculptures of a man and a woman in the nude. They do not know when or who made the sculptures but a story attached to the nude sculptures tells that the man and woman were turned to rock figures due to a curse by the man’s wife when she found that the man (her husband) had committed adultery against her with the woman.
Photographs of the Bullocks of Miat Rynsut Pala taken by (Late) Shining Star Laloo.

The late Shining Star Laloo in his book written in Khasi, “Ka Syiem Latympang” (Queen Latympang) mentions some stone engravings and sculptures that can be found in Latuba near Thangrain village in West Jaintia Hills to the north. These include the elephant of U Syiem Slieng (a neighbouring king who fought against Queen Latympang), the bullocks of U Miat Rynsut Pala (Queen Latympang’s beloved) and his plough. Oral also tradition tells that Miat Rynsut had left his two bullocks while ploughing his field to rush to the aid of Queen Latympang. The bullocks kept waiting for his return but when he did not come back to the field, the bullocks and his plough turned to stone. The stone bullocks were disfigured with cracks not many years ago due to weathering but locals say that they cracked after a rainstorm known as ‘Ka Pylliang’ hit the area incessantly for nine days and nights.
Representation of the Sun and Moon on rock lying to the west of the Rupasor Royal Bathing Ghat near Syndai village.

Some engravings have also been found on a monolith at Tamu, another village near Khanduli and another rock carving has also been reported from the same region at Saitsama village. An engraving of a rooster and an elephant on one of the monoliths in Yawmusiang at Nangbah village has been highlighted later (using black paint) by somebody yet unknown. The arched stone bridge at Umïaknieh (to the south of Krangshuri falls near Amlarem) also has some engravings on its sides. This bridge is similar in structure to the one near the Rupasor bathing ghat and is probably of the same age and lies on the ancient highway between the summer capital (Nartiang) and the winter capital (Sylhet) of the Jaiñtia kings. Maybe some more are to be discovered. Only time will tell.
Tridents (Trishuls) engraved on rocks along the western bank of Tisang (Myntdu) River near Pasadwar village.

It must be noted that it is considered taboo in the Khasi and Jaiñtia culture to make images in any form of one’s God, ancestors, deities and any object of reverence. This has also been reiterated by the noted artist and writer Raphael Warjri in his book “Ka Thoh Dur Mynta” (A Khasi book on Creative Art). Till the recent past some elders still refrain from being photographed. Therefore, it is not surprising to find very few rock engravings or sculptures in Khasi and Jaiñtia hills. Those that are mentioned here most probably have been the influence of other cultures as they are found only in the Southern and Northern fringes of the erstwhile Jaiñtia Kingdom which come in contact with neighbouring cultures. However, it is a subject of further research which will lead to a better understanding of the subject.
A rooster and an elephant etched on a monolith at Yawmusiang in Nangbah Village of West Jaiñtia Hills.

(The views expressed above are those of the writer. He can be contacted at The author permits use of the texts and images with credit to the source where superimposed and to the author where there is none.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The nth view on the NGT ban and Coal Mining in Meghalaya

This article has also been published on this link as an editorial piece:

Coal mining activities at 3-kilo, Dima Hasao District of Assam (on the other side of Kupli river)

Ever since the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned coal mining in Meghalaya in April 2014, we have seen many reactions and opinions expressed in the media and in various forums. It is best to refrain from using the words “scientific coal mining” here, because, we are yet to get a proper definition of what exactly is “scientific mining”, nor has the NGT defined it for us.

What exactly is scientific mining? Does its meaning involve using large machines and earth movers? We already know what the coal seams in Meghalaya are like from the views of geologists and other experts expressed in the papers, books and other forums - the thinness and unequal distribution of the coal seams do not support open cast mining, which in my opinion is far more destructive and detrimental to the environment with large scale repercussions not just to the environment but also to the livelihood of the local populace. If I might be permitted to use an allegory here, should we describe a cannibal who uses forks and knives as “civilized”? This article describes the nth view on the subject, since we have already lost track on the number of views and opinions already on record. Those who are in the know can simply substitute the number for the variable.

As I write this article, the state government’s mining plan, after much delay in its drafting, is still under review by two central government ministries. The NGT has recently deferred hearing on the case pending these reviews. So, in the meantime, I ask our readers to humour me with what I have to say on this issue.

So then, let us ask ourselves: who benefits and who suffers from this ban? First of all, Mother Nature is given a chance to recuperate and regenerate itself. Maybe we should consider a moratorium on all forms of mining until the Government of Meghalaya comes up with a sustainable mining policy and plan. (And again, the word ‘sustainable’ is quite an abused word nowadays). Will our Legislators and Councillors rise to the occasion? They have already earned the reputation of ‘legislators sans legislation’, perhaps too busy playing musical chairs and scheming to topple each other or expanding their businesses (most of our representatives are also businesspeople) that legislation is not among their top priorities. As long as they consider each other as competitors and not co-workers, they simply remain as mere 'nongmihkhmat' or ‘stand-in’ representatives and not respected Members of the Legislative Assembly and the District Councils. However, we still have not given up hope in our democratic system yet, because our present youth are more informed and involved. We await change for the better through them.

Environmentalist and nature lovers are of course gloating for the time being. This is for them a victory of sorts. But for how long will the euphoria last? Only time will tell. Extremists do exist on both sides of the fence. A pragmatic approach to all forms of mining is the need of the hour. Confrontation is not a solution - consultation is. For, in any confrontation, collateral damage happens. As the Khasi saying goes, "Nang ïatur ki masi, nang ïap ki phlang" (While the bulls engage in a fight, the grass beneath their feet suffer and die.) This has already been proven by the loss of innocent lives at the Mookhep police firing during the economic blockade enforced by the organisation called Movement for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Livelihood (MIPRL). Our sources tell us that neither the Chairman nor the Secretary of the MIPRL had taken part in the march that resulted in Police firing at Mookhep on the 24th September of 2014.
For those who have become lakhpatis and crorepatis from coal mining, they already have amassed enough profits from coal mining and can afford to bide their time and meanwhile engage in other ventures or get back to what they have been doing before engaging in the coal business. For the small time coal businessmen, coal mine workers, middlemen, labourers, shopkeepers and all those who derive their source of livelihood from coal mining and allied activities, they do feel the pinch and I wouldn't dare suggest anything here; only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Nevertheless, I am sure they will find (or might have already found) their own solutions to the current crisis they face, for Homo sapiens sapiens is the most adaptable species of all creatures.

In a news item carried by the Shillong Times on September 17, 2014, the Railways Minister, Shri. Sadananda Gowda  had stated that the Railways will lose nearly 50 crore rupees annually due to the ban on coal mining by the NGT in Meghalaya. The State Government is also losing crores of rupees on royalties and taxes from coal. Factories, Cement Plants, Paper Mills and industries in and around Meghalaya that depend on coal are also affected by the ban. These are real facts and we cannot deny them. But let us also consider this fact: if we are to quantify or monetize the services of Mother Nature which provides us free drinking water, breathable air, cultivable land, forests, flora and fauna, non-timber forest products, grazing land and many other things besides aesthetic beauty, will the balance sheet show a surplus or deficit? Your guess is as good as mine. A dead river is not 'damaged goods' which can be replaced by any company under a warranty. Let us accept the fact that we have simply taken nature for granted all the time, while nature, good mother that it is, continues to accommodate our whims and sometimes unreasonable desires like a mother yielding to the pressure tactics of a spoiled child that continues to rant and rave if not given what it asked for.

The NGT ban has also, not surprisingly, opened the back door for business. Reports of violations of the ban abound in local newspapers of Meghalaya. The number of trucks seized is but minor compared to the number that manage to find their way out of Meghalaya by hook or by crook (not to mention with the aid of crooks). There may be some compulsions in some cases of violations but nevertheless they are against the NGT order. The State Government will never be able to recover lost taxes from these trucks that have violated the ban. It is lost forever in the greasing of palms that happen in these types of clandestine trade. While the NGT has from time to time allowed transportation of already extracted coal, clandestine transportation still occurs repeatedly. Even mining of coal is carried on in some parts of the state in direct violation of the ban.

Let us now consider the genesis of the ban. The All Dimasa Students' Union had moved the National Green Tribunal on April 2, 2014 blaming coal mining in Meghalaya for polluting the water of the River Kupli and making it acidic. The NGT in its hearing on April 17, 2014 issued a directive banning all forms of coal mining in Meghalaya and also directed the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police to ensure that rat-hole mining and illegal mining are stopped throughout the state of Meghalaya and any illegal transport of coal should not take place until further orders are passed by the NGT. I’m simply curious at the use of the word ‘illegal’ since coal mining has always enjoyed the patronisation of the state Government and also, taxes and royalties on coal are in force in the state.

The ban is a welcome move, particularly because mining has been carried out haphazardly in the state since its commercial exploitation in the 1970s with no consideration of its impact on the environment. People living downstream of rivers affected by coal mining can testify to the death of their rivers which gave them alternative means of earning their livelihood. The villagers of Kwator, Natbor, Sankhat, Tongseng, Chymphlong and Kuliang among others along the Myntdu and Lukha rivers will testify to the death of these rivers. The river Kupli is also bereft of aquatic fauna - all decimated by acid mine drainage.

But let us not forget that the area where the whole NGT issue began lies on the north eastern border of Assam and Meghalaya. It is a known fact that coal mining occurs on both sides of the Kupli river. The eastern bank of the Kupli river lies on the Assam side while the western bank lies on Meghalaya’s shores. So, it seems dubious for the NGT to impose a ban only on one side of the river i.e. on the Meghalaya side as mining on both sides are responsible for the acidity of the Kupli river from coal mining activities. When the ban on coal mining was enforced in Meghalaya by the NGT, mining activities on the other side of the river continued without hindrance. What this does reflect is partiality on the side of the NGT and leads one to wonder whether there are any vested interests at work behind the NGT ban. The Dima Hasao Students Union also seems to be having double standards on this issue. How can they file a PIL only against Meghalaya when their own state is also engaging in the same activities on their side of the river? This seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. Only time will tell, whether, they are mere pawns or not in the whole picture.

It is a fact that the dam at Kupli river has been facing problems due to rising acidity in the river caused by coal mining activities happening upstream of the dam on both sides of the river. The longevity of the dam, which came into existence in 1976, has been threatened as the acidic water is a menace to the turbines. NEEPCO, the implementing agency, has already expressed this concern over the years, specifically stating that the acidity of the water is eating into the turbines of the hydro-electricity generating dam. There is no better witness to truth than ground reality. NEEPCO is therefore happy with the NGT ban.

A few weeks and later after the NGT ban, I did raise the issue of coal mining and the ban among the coal miners that I met. Many of them did acknowledge the need for a controlled form of mining which is environment-friendly. But there are still many who simply refuse to accept that coal mining is destroying the environment and among these are the leaders of different groups protesting against the ban. At a public meeting held at Khliehriat, East Jaintia Hills in 2014, one leader stated that coal mining in Jaintia Hills has not affected the environment. He claims that their hills are still green. Well, if we are to accept that only growth of grass on the hills bereft of trees is greenery, than the gentleman is probably right.

About a year and a half has passed since the NGT ban and we are yet to see a solution to this issue. The Government having at first opposed the ban delayed its preparation of the mining plan as asked by the NGT. Now the ball is in the Central Government’s court. As we wait for views of the Ministry of Coal and the Ministry of Environment let us consider some options.

The major source of AMD is in the large open stockpiling of extracted coal. During the British rule, coal mining was done at a very small scale and mostly done to meet the fuel needs of the British government. AMD from these mines were easily counteracted by the abundant rainfall in the region. The rainwater diluted the AMD causing little or no side-effects. But as time progressed, coal mining has increased many-fold and it was only since the 1980s that the side-effects of coal mining were felt and seen by the dwellers downstream of the water bodies coming from coal mining areas. In the light of these realities, it is imperative for the Government to enforce building of roofed coal depots by coal miners to prevent AMD. Putting fines for open stockpiling will definitely be a deterrent.
Open stockpiling of coal in Jaintia Hills

The need to reduce AMD is critical to the availability of safe drinking water. Scarcity of safe drinking water is another reality in the coal mining areas. The common people are forced to walk longer distances to fetch drinking water after their previous water sources have become acidic and impure to drink. The rich can afford to buy water everyday but not the common people, especially the poor. AMD has the ability to seep into the water table of the coal mining areas, especially in the open stockpiles of extracted coal and therefore it becomes a challenge to obtain safe drinking water. We can only reclaim our water sources by taking drastic measures but first we need to acknowledge the facts that have affected our water sources in the coal mining areas.

Some miners may complain about paying the Environment fund but if CSR has been made compulsory in the country, it is only fitting for the miners to pay a certain percentage of their profits as an Individual Social Responsibility (ISR).

It is to be seen how serious the state government is in implementing its promises of converting abandoned mines into forests. The idea is penitently humane and also nature friendly but its implementation will mean a lot of funds to spend. So, the percentage of profits paid as ISR will definitely aid the government to make its promises a reality. Funds from the CSR and ISR will also allow the government to engage in other schemes to manage our natural resources.
Water body at Lad-rymbai rendered useless and dead by coal mining activities.

Agriculture has also suffered in the coal mining areas as the fields are contaminated by AMD. We have seen stories of former coal miners and workers turning to other activities for earning their livelihood. Two stories, both from East Jaintia Hills District, have appeared prominently in the local media. One is the floriculture undertaken by a miner at Wapung and the other is the turmeric hub initiated by the Horticulture Department in cooperation with the villagers of Moolamylliang. These are positive efforts and reactions as opposed to organising bandhs and protests. Agriculture is one occupation that has never gone out of date because it satisfies one of the basic needs of human beings to survive - food. The state government would do well to pay more attention to Agriculture and its allied branch Horticulture and increase its budget allocation towards this department. Food production is ever important to the ever growing population of the world, no less in our state.

It took the State Government 18 long years after the Supreme Court ban on Timber felling in 1996 to come up with a working scheme for timber harvesting and planting. Let us hope a viable and effective mining plan does not have to go through as long a gestation period. The state does not lack in experienced and knowledgeable people and experts. Will our representatives and the state bureaucracy rise to the occasion? Engaging in endless rhetoric is detrimental in every sense as it is a time-wasting ploy.

The delay in resolving the issue only leads to suspicion and distrust in the minds of the common people. Let us stop the political games, put our egos and greed aside and work together for the greater common good. The onus lies not just on the government of the day, but also on the opposition and every citizen of the state. Can we work together to bequeath a better legacy to our descendants? Before I conclude this piece, let me share the story of the Horomocho that appeared in the August 31, 2002 issue of Down To Earth, an environment fortnightly (published by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi), but which I came across in a text box insert on page 167 of the book ‘Rich Lands Poor People’ (also published by CSE in 2008).

Horomocho is a Santhal village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand with about 52 households. After seeing the effects of coal mining and deforestation happening around their village, a few enlightened villagers, concerned for the future of their village decided to act by taking control of the village forest and the coal pits situated inside their territory. They declared the forest and coal pits as community property. Every year, the villagers take out about 20 tractor-loads of coal for the village and distributed free of cost to the villagers to meet their fuel requirements for the year. This has reduced pressure on the forest for fuelwood which in turn has conserved their water sources and land. They are ready to face up to the challenges of government and private party interference on their sustainable practice.

There is much to learn from such wisdom. And just as we can learn from somebody’s success, we can also learn from their failures. India as a developing nation should learn more from the mistakes of the developed countries instead of trying to be like them. Let us build on the strengths of our indigenous systems and take pride in them. Just as we enjoy our freedom with surety, let us also undertake our duties with a sense of responsibility.

I conclude this piece in the words of Chief Seattle: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Khasi and Jaintia Tribes of Barak Valley, Assam

A Report

1. Introduction

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes living in Assam have their origins in the present day Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya state in Northeast India and therefore share their early history with the tribes living there. Very little is known of their ancient history for want of written records; but Neolithic findings tell that they belong to an ancient race (Bhattacharya 2002)[1].

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes are of a Mongoloid race whose languages belong to the Austroasiatic language family. The term Khasi has been used in the past, and even today, to refer to the indigenous tribes living in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills which include the seven tribes of the Khasi race, namely, the Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, War, Lyngngam, Marram and the now never-heard of Diko. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India however lists all these tribes together under the larger tribe name Khasi. The Khynriam are concentrated in the upland regions of Khasi Hills with the Bhoi on the north; the Marram and Lyngngams in the west Khasi Hills, the Pnar in Jaintia Hills and the War are concentrated in the southern slopes of both Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The War in Khasi Hills are known as War-Khasi while the War in Jaintia Hills are knows as War-Jaintia.

The term Jaintia is an exoethnonym (exonym) which has gradually been accepted as an endoethnonym (endonym) (Sen 2002)[2]. Another exonym used by other Khasi tribes and neighbouring tribes for the Jaintias is ‘Synteng’. In the Buranjis of Assam, they are referred to as the ‘Jayantia[3]. Today, the term Jaintia is used to refer to the Bhois, the Pnars and the Wars mainly inhabiting the Jaintia Hills. The Jaintias are also found in the plains of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts of Assam, Karbi Anglong, North Cachar Hills and several other districts of Assam and also in the district of Sylhet in Bangladesh.

2. Origin of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes

The Khasi and Jaintia have very similar legends about their origin. According to one legend, God called for a council in heaven in which it was decided that seven of the sixteen clans living in heaven were to descend to Earth to till the land, populate it and to rule and govern it. These seven clans that came down to Earth through the Golden Ladder are believed to be the ancestors of the seven tribes of the Khasi race including the Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, War, Marram, Lyngngam and the now never-heard of Diko[4]. Till today, the Khasi tribes call themselves ‘Ki Khun U Hynñiew Trep’ (children of the seven huts).

Another legend on which is based the scholarly argument that the Khasis and Jaintias are descended from the same ancestress tells of a woman named Iawtalang of the Talang clan who had nine daughters and lived in Pamchadong village on the southern slope of Jaintia Hills. On one occasion, the husband of the youngest sister cooked the after-birth of his wife and fed it to the elder sisters saying that it was the meat of a sacrificial rooster.  He later told them the truth and taunted them as devourers of their own kith and kin. Overcome with shame, the other eight sisters fled the village taking their separate directions and settling in different parts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and founding their own clans[5]. Thus, till today, we have the Talang clan in Chyrmang, the Buam in Thangbuli, the Nongtdu in Rymbai and Khliehriat, the Pyrtuh in Sohmynting, the Syntung and Suting in Khasi Hills, another Talang in Maroblang and the Lyngdoh Talang in Nongtalang. All these clans are said to have descended from these eight sisters. The youngest daughter remained at Pamchadong but changed her clan name to Ñialang after her own name. And till today, these clans still respect and maintain their clan ties.

Another oral tradition tells of a myth which narrates the origins of the clans settled around Jowai from the four wombs (Soo-Kpoh) of Ka Bon, Ka Tein, Ka Wet and Ka Doh[6]. Again, it has also been computed by scholars that U Chyngklein Am, the eldest son of Ka Li Dakha and u Woh Ryndi ruled the Jaintia state in the 3rd Century BC[7].

3. The Khasi and Jaintia Tribes during Prehistoric times

Since the Khasi race have no written records of their ancient history, we can only rely on scholarly works which have tried to study the origin and history of the Khasi tribes. The Khasi have no script of their own; it has been said that they had lost their script in the course of their migration in the distant past beyond reckoning. Gurdon (1914) ascribes the loss of the Khasi script to a flood in Sylhet[8]. Oral tradition also refers to the same but in some versions, it has been mentioned that the script was destroyed by water while the person carrying it in his mouth was swimming across a river[9]. The present script of the Khasis based on the Roman script had been written by Thomas Jones in 1841 and printed at the Calcutta Baptist Press in 1842[10].

The Khasis (including all sister tribes) represent one of the earliest waves of migration to North East India[11]. Neolithic findings tell that they belong to an ancient race with roots in the Mekong valley in Cambodia[12]. Studies in linguistics also trace the origin of the Khasian languages to the lower Mekong valley[13]. Recent studies, using radiocarbon dating of charcoal from iron slag, revealed evidence of continuous iron smelting in the hills of Meghalaya and has been dated to 2040 ± 80 years BP (353 BC – AD 128)[14]. This proves beyond doubt that the Khasi and Jaintia are original settlers of the North Eastern region of India and also lends credence to Pakem’s claim that the Megaliths in Jaintia hills were erected around the Iron Age[15]. Pakem (1977) also stated that the Jaintia Kingdom existed as early as the 5th Century BC when a Jaintia Royal embassy was reported to have visited China[16].

4. Recorded History of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes, being self-reliant, lived in isolation for a very long period of time in the hills. They had also developed their own democratic system of governance since ancient times. The first encounter of the Khasi with other tribes took place only in the 16th century AD during the reign of the Koch king Naranarayana[17] and the first contact between the Ahoms and the kingdom of Jaintia dates from the beginning of the 17th century AD during the reign of the Ahom king, Pratap Singh (1603-41 AD)[18]. Though the Khasis had many kingdoms (principalities), and the Jaintias only one, the chronicles of the Ahom, Koch and Kachari kings mentioned most prominently and almost exclusively only the Rajas of Jaintia and Khairam (Khyrim)[19]. The history of these relations have also been described by Gait (1926), Mackenzie (1995), Bhuyan (1937), Chowdhury (1978) and Goswami (2012) besides other authors and scholars. Relics and coins have been found which testify to the existence of the Khasi and Jaintia kings in the past.

During some parts of their shared history with the Ahoms and Kacharis, territories changed hands between them. By the time the British set foot on the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, the Jaintia Kingdom had expanded into the southern plains of Sylhet and also north to the Barak river in Assam[20]. Specific mention may be made of the Kachari king Jasa Narayan who marched against the kingdom of the Jaintias. In the first encounter with the Jaintias, the Kacharis were defeated but in the second encounter, the Jaintias were defeated and Mulagul was fixed as the boundary between Cachar and Jaintia[21].

The first encounter of the British with the Jaintias occurred in 1774 when Major Henniker attacked them[22]. The cause of the attack was never recorded; but most probably it was a boundary dispute which cropped up after the British became master of Sylhet district by virtue of the grant of Dewani of Bengal to the East India Company in 1765[23]. After the annexation of the Jaintia Kingdom by the British in 1835 it was joined with the Khasi states and put under one Political Agent of the British. The Khasi rebellion against the British which started in 1829 under the leadership of U Tirot Singh ended with his surrender on 13th January 1833, while the Jaintia rebellion against the British which started in 1860 lasted only a few years after the capture and execution of their chief leader U Kiang Nangbah on December 30, 1862.

5. The Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Barak Valley

Lack of records during the pre-British years makes us rely on oral history of the tribes for reference. In the remote past, they had come from the adjoining Jaintia Kingdom (which extended to Sylhet district in the south) to cultivate betel vines in the forested hills of south Assam, particularly, in the forests of Borail range, Bhuban Hills, Longai range, Garmura range and other ranges and forest areas. The Jaintias were the first to settle in these forests; the Khasis came at a later stage. They lived together as a community in small hamlets in the forests and were scattered all over the forested areas. They did not mind walking long distances to reach a market place once or twice a week to sell their produce or buy their simple necessities like salt.

The Khasis and Jaintias were commonly referred to as Khasia in the past and even today by non-tribals. Hunter (1879), notes that Mr. Edgar, the Deputy Commissioner in 1870 had put the population of the Khasias and Assamese in Cachar at 1000 souls[24]. This information however does not give an exact figure on the population of the Khasis (& Jaintias) then. We can postulate that if the Khasis and Assamese were approximately equal in number and if we are to assume an average of 5 persons per household, then the number of Khasi & Jaintia households in 1870 were approximately 100 in number. Their present population, according to an ongoing independent survey, is approximately 1,00,000 (one lakh)[25] which is <0.3%. The survey has so far been completed in 285 Khasi & Jaintia hamlets and villages in Barak valley.

6. Traditional Livelihood of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Barak Valley

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes living in south Assam (Barak Valley) during the past were an obscure community, particularly so, because of their unique and traditional means of livelihood by cultivation of betel vines for their leaves. Unlike cultivation of betel leaf in other parts of India, their traditional method involves the use of trees as support for the betel vines and dead leaves and branches as organic manure for the betel plants.

Therefore, forests and trees are vital to the survival of the tribes because this was, and is, the only traditional means of livelihood for them. And so, their communities lived in forested areas where trees are abundant and hence they had very little contact with the local population who are settled in the plain areas. The variety of betel leaf they cultivate is known locally as the Khasia paan, among the Bengalis, which they sell at weekly haats or bazaars.

After 7-10 years, when the soil has reduced in fertility and production of leaves by the betel vines has reduced, these tribes shift their cultivation to a fresh patch of the forest. It might therefore be observed that while betel leaf cultivation by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes is a shifting cultivation by virtue of it being organic, it is yet a method of cultivation that preserves trees and forests. So, even if it is referred to as Paan-jhum, it is completely different to the normal jhum cultivation of other tribes and communities which is more of a ‘slash and burn type’.  Hence, ‘jhum’ seems to be a misnomer where the paan-jhum of the Khasi and Jaintia betel leaf cultivation is concerned.

7. Customs and Traditions

The nature of their livelihood not only obscures them from the outside world, but it also served to preserve their unique identity, culture and traditional practices as a separate ethnic group. Their hamlets and villages are administered by their age-old democratic system of governance in which a village headman (Gaonburra) is elected by the adult members of the village which comprise the Village Durbar. The Village Durbar is supreme and the Headman is only a titular head. Succession to the Headmanship is hereditary and it follows the Khasi and Jaintia traditional and customary laws. There are instances where Headmanship is taken over by women. This is a trait practised only in south Assam among the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in India. In the present day Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, it is still a taboo or against tradition for a woman to even be part of the Village Durbar.

Though most of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes have converted to Christianity through the works and efforts of Christian missionaries since the 19th century, some of them still practice their indigenous religion known as Niamtre. However, this change in religion did not affect their other customs and traditions which are at the core of their ethnic culture.

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes’ limited exposure outside of their own communes is the local bazaar, where they sell their betel leaves and other produce and to procure items like salt, dry-fish, clothes and grocery and kerosene to fuel their lamps which has replaced beeswax in modern times. Local traders also come to their punjees (villages/hamlets) to directly purchase betel leaves at wholesale prices.

8. Effect of political changes on the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Barak Valley

8.1 Pre-British period

During the days of the Jaintia Kings and the Kachari kings, the Khasi and Jaintia tribes living as betel leaf cultivators lived in peace in their small hamlets amidst jungles and forests. They were fiercely independent and were left to themselves and respected as a tribe. Their hamlets were scattered in the vast forest areas of the then Cachar Kingdom and south-eastern part of the Jaintia Kingdom. A hamlet sometimes comprised of only two to five households.

8.2 British period

After the British took possession of Cachar district in 1830 (which then included the whole of South Assam), they declared all forest areas as Government reserve land and granted leases to Tea Companies for growing tea. This act of the British government deprived the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of their traditional occupation of betel-vine cultivation in the forests. The original settlers were now considered foreigners in their own land. The simple and illiterate Khasi & Jaintia Betel Leaf cultivators then had to pay taxes and apply for permission to continue with their existing Betel Leaf cultivation. (See Annexure A for copies of agreements and  rent receipts)

A copy of the letter written in Khasi to the Commissioner (see Annexure B) as indicated in the notes in the year 1904 from Assam Secretariat in Diary No. 68 under the Branch Diary Heading – Forests, states that the undersigned were inhabitants of Kunapara and Marwacherra hamlets near Borkhola (these villages still exist today) in Cachar district of Assam. The gist of the letter is that - the petitioners argued that it would be an injustice and deprivation of their means of livelihood if they were not allowed to continue with their age-old practice of betel leaf cultivation as they had done in the past. They further stated that they and their children would starve to death if denied of their only means of livelihood. They also clarified that their method of Paan-jhum should not be misconceived as a slash and burn jhum system but rather as one that protects trees and forests. They also mention that they pay their taxes regularly to the Government.

This is a typical example of what the Khasi and Jaintia tribes had to go through when political rulers changed. They were deprived of their rights to livelihood and rights as indigenous forest dwellers.

Copy of Government records available to us state the history of Damcherra Punji (Alambag) thus:

“The Jum permit was granted to Jata Khasia in the year 1917. After Jata Khasia one Konlowar Khasia was appointed Headman and the present Headman Padwin Khasi was appointed Headman in place of Konlowar Khasia vide D.C’s Memo No. 21329-32/R.dated 4/2/60 in R.P.No.5 of 1959-60.”

(see Annexure C for copy of Government documents)

8.3 Post British period

After the Government of India Act 1919 and 1935 were passed by the British government, their situation did not change or improve because the Government of India also continued with the British policies with respect to Forests. A copy of the petition addressed to the then Divisional Forest Officer of Cachar and signed by Arshibai Khasia and Lakhon Khasia dated 18th April 1947 (see Annexure D) indicated that the Khasi & Jaintia were faced with severe hardships and deprivation with regard to their means of livelihood.

The letter states that owing to depleting yield of their present betel leaf cultivation at Marwacherra village, the villagers were finding it hard to make both ends meet. They therefore petitioned for settlement of a forest area under Balicherra grant of Cachar district measuring about 200 hals ( 1000 acres) so that they can start fresh cultivation of betel leaf with payment of requisite tax. The petitioners also mentioned that the Khasia villagers had been living in the present area for ten years and were of reputation and did no harm to the land.

Their petition probably fell on deaf ears because in another copy of a petition signed by the same petitioners, Arshibai and Lakhon, dated 22nd March 1948 and addressed to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Cachar district, the same issue was quoted citing another previously signed petition dated 24th July 1947 as reference. (See Annexure E)

8.4 Post Independence period

The Assam Government also failed to recognise the rights of indigenous forest settlers and give them ownership over land. To make matters worse, immigrants from Bangladesh, who continuously entered through the porous international border of Assam right from 1947 began to engage in intimidation and harassment of the tribals with the help of Muslim miscreants and with the intention of grabbing their land and cultivation.

Post Independence, there was some increase in the population of the tribes after some relatives from adjoining Jaintia Hills also came to settle for betel leaf cultivation. There was also some migration of Khasi & Jaintia tribes during the Indo-Pak war of 1970-71 towards the Indian territory along the Indo-Pak boundary. But hostile environment caused by timber poachers and land-grabbers have again caused their migration and displacement to other villages or to Meghalaya.

The destruction of forests by timber poachers and miscreants threatened their livelihood and it was a grave concern for the Khasi and Jaintia tribes. In an effort to protect the forests, the tribes under the leadership of (Late) Min Paul Pohthmi approached the Forest Department with the suggestion of forming Volunteer forces in five Khasia villages in Bhuban Hills Reserve Forest area, namely, Maskhal, Panichowki (Bhuban Hill), Krishnapur, Nagakhal and Bhubonkhal punjees, for prevention and detection of illegalities in the Reserve Forests.

A specific example may be mentioned of the Panichowki Reserve punjee (aka Bhuban Hill Khasia punjee). Five volunteers were appointed by the Divisional Forest Officer of Silchar Division vide letter no. B/6247/78/14 (T.V) dated the 15th Feb 1991. The volunteers dutifully and diligently patrolled the Reserve Forest within their area at least once a week to check for illegal activities with the assistance of their fellow-villagers. During their exercise of duty, timber poachers were seized along with their tools and handed over to the Forest Beat Officer. But the Forest officials never took action against the poachers and freed them by bribery. It was an exercise in futility and defeated the morale of the volunteers. Instead, they gained the enmity of the poacher community who took to intimidation and aggression against the tribals.[26]

9. Chronic problems and issues affecting the Khasi and Jaintia tribes in Barak Valley

9.1 Tribes, but not Scheduled Tribes: The Govt. of India Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribes Orders (Ammendment) Act 1976 and the revised list of Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes Orders (Ammendment) Act 2002 issued by Department of Welfare of Plain Tribes and Backward Classes, Govt. of Assam in 2003 (vide order no. TAD/BC/87/93/46 dated the 1st April 2003) has dubiously recognised the Khasi, Jaintia, Synteng, Pnar, War, Bhoi and Lyngngam tribes as Hill tribes but this Scheduled Tribe status is applicable only in the Autonomous Districts of Assam where their population is but in small numbers compared to their majority population in the plains districts of south Assam (Cachar, Karimganj & Hailakandi). It may be worth mentioning here that, while the Government of Assam had in 2001 accorded ST status to the Garo tribe all over Assam who were, till then, also excluded from the ST status in Non-Autonomous areas of Assam, the Khasi and Jaintias are yet to be notified as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in all districts of Assam. Several letters and memoranda have been submitted to the Governor, Ministers and Commissioners (WPT & BC) of Assam, but so far no action is taken in this regard. Non-recognition as Scheduled tribes in plains districts has deprived the Khasi and Jaintia tribes from job and other opportunities. They are hence still behind the mainstream of the Indian nation.

9.2 Land Grabbing: The process of land-grabbing by suspected Bangladeshi immigrants over the years had caused massive displacement and migration of the tribes to Meghalaya state and to upper Assam which has resulted in reduction of their population in south Assam. This process has been going on for many years now and many of the Khasi and Jaintia villages have been ravaged, attacked and being overrun by suspected Bangladeshi immigrants with the connivance of some Muslim miscreants and sometimes with the open collusion of the Government Officials. The use of force and vandalism to villages and their Betel leaf and Betel nut cultivations has caused severe loss to property and also displacement of the indigenous Khasi & Jaintia communities. (See Annexure F for few media reports)

9.3 Atrocities against girls and women: Instances of rape and kidnapping of Khasi and Jaintia girls and women by Muslim miscreants have been taking place and also reported in the media. This causes insecurity for their girls and women even in public places. Khasi & Jaintia girls and women are being lured and kidnapped by their non-tribal neighbours (mostly Muslim) to forcefully marry them to eventually hoard their lands because the Khasis and Jaintias are matrilineal tribes.  (See Annexure G for some reported instances)

9.4 Deprivation of Forest Rights: The Khasi and Jaintia tribes are forest dwellers by virtue of their traditional means of livelihood, i.e. betel leaf cultivation using trees and forests. But the Forest Department fail to recognise their indigenous rights or their contribution to conserving the forests. The very nature of their livelihood puts them at odds with the timber poachers and Forest officials who seem to condone these timber poachers for their personal benefit. Therefore, there have been many unreported skirmishes between the eco-friendly Khasi and Jaintia tribes and the benefit-seeking immigrants and Muslim miscreants trying to make easy money by destroying forest resources including timber and Non-timber forest products (NTFP) like canes, rattans, bamboos, etc. It is not questionable why Forest officials continue to harass indigenous forest dwellers. (See Annexure H for relevant media reports)
9.5 Effect of Militancy: The Khasi & Jaintia villages located in forests and in isolation are prone to extortion and abuse and even threat to their lives from different militant groups hiding in different forests of south Assam and using the jungle as corridors to cross State and International borders. They are placed in a catch-22 situation where on the one hand, informing on the militants would invite the militant’s wrath and revenge on the defenceless villagers, and on the other hand, they are accused of harbouring militants for not informing on the militants. Thankfully, now, the militancy problem has subsided but the fear that it would rear its ugly head again persists. There have been instances when the Khasi and Jaintia villagers had cooperated with the local Police and the army and also took active part in their campaign against the militants. (See Annexure I for media reports)
9.6 State Government apathy: The creation of the Barak Valley (Hill Tribes) Development Council (vide Government notification No.TAD/BC/30/96/34 dated the 13th March 1996), has failed to address the development issues of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes because they are under-represented in the council with respect to their percentage of population. Moreover, the functioning of the Barak Valley (Hill Tribe) Development Council is also fraught with anomalies and alleged corruption. The District Administrations and the State Government including the Chief Minister and several representatives have been approached formally and informally several times in the past to address these grievances, but till date no positive outcome has resulted from the repeated endeavours and requests. (See Annexure J for media reports)
9.7 Growing unrest among the youth: Government apathy to address the above issues and to improve the welfare and upliftment of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes is leading to growing unrest among the youths. This is a dangerous trend which needs to be resolved immediately.

10. Suggested Solutions to problems

The Khasi and Jaintia people of south Assam have been demanding the following steps to positively address most of their problems:
i)        Creation of a permanent and democratic ‘Khasi & Jaintia Development Council’ and ‘Village Development Councils’ within the framework of the Indian Constitution and whose jurisdiction will be applicable only to Khasi and Jaintia villages of Assam to serve their development needs in every field and to eliminate social and economic discrimination against them.
ii)      To accord full Scheduled Tribe status to the indigenous Khasi and Jaintia tribes (which include the Khynriam, Jaintia (Pnar), War, Lyngngam, Bhoi and Maram tribes) in all districts and the whole State of Assam and to notify the same in the Gazettes of Assam and India.
iii)    To provide Government Khas land and funds for construction of the “Khasi and Jaintia Development Council” Students’ Hostel cum Guest house at Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi (district headquarters) which will serve as safe houses for the Khasi and Jaintia people coming to town for medical treatment, official or educational purposes. The construction of the Students’ Hostel cum Guest house is to be undertaken in a phased manner beginning with the main town of Silchar.
iv)    To include Khasi as one of the subjects at Primary Schools in the Khasi and Jaintia dominated villages of Assam.
v)      To nominate two members (elected by the communities) to the proposed Vidhan Parishad of the Assam Government from among the Khasi and Jaintia communities in Assam to represent their aspirations and interests.
vi)    Creation of a Volunteer force comprising of unemployed Khasi and Jaintia youths in the International Indo-Bangla Border area to assist Security forces in checking illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into India.

11. Conclusion

The Khasi and Jaintia tribes though being original settlers in south Assam are still treated as insignificant citizens of the state and country. Their unique identity and culture is under threat of extermination from influx of illegal immigrants and Muslim miscreants and also by the apathy of the State Government. With a population of about a lakh number (< 0.3% of Assam’s population) in the Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts of south Assam, a literacy rate of less than 10%, and non-representation in the mainstream, they deserve a special consideration from the State and Central Governments for their continuing future in the pluralism of India as a nation.

Constitution of Village Development Councils at village levels to be administered through the Khasi & Jaintia Development Council as the apex body will meet the needs of their tribes to remove social and economic discrimination and serve to ameliorate the deplorable conditions of their tribes and guide their youths in the right direction so that they can participate effectively in governance and nation- building. All these can be achieved within the framework of the Constitution of India, which has provisions for protection of the minorities and scheduled tribes.

[1] Bhattacharya,  N. N., Environment, Land and People of Jaintia Hills. In Jaintia Hills- A Meghalaya Tribe – Its Environment, Land and People (eds Passah P. and Sarma S.) Reliance Publishing House, New – Delhi, 2002, p.3.
[2] Sen, S., Narrative, Ritual and Historical Events: The Jaintia Identity. In Jaintia Hills- A Meghalaya Tribe – Its Environment, Land and People (eds Passah P. and Sarma S.) Reliance Publishing House, New – Delhi, 2002, p.93.
[3] Bhuyan, S. K., Jayantia Buranji. Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Gauhati, 1937.
[4] Nongkynrih, K. S., Around the Hearth. Khasi Legends. Penguin Books India, 2007. pp. 1-7.
[5] Simon, I. M., Khasi and Jaintia Tales and Beliefs. Gauhati University, Gauhati, 1996.
[6] Sen, S., Narrative, Ritual and Historical Events: The Jaintia Identity. In Jaintia Hills- A Meghalaya Tribe – Its Environment, Land and People (eds Passah P. and Sarma S.) Reliance Publishing House, New – Delhi, 2002, p.91.
[7] Pakem, B., State Formation in Pre-Colonial Jaintia. In Tribal Politics and State Systems in Pre-Colonial Eastern and North Eastern India (ed Surajit Sinha) K. P. Bagchi & Company, Calcutta, 1987.  pp. 243-245.
[8] Gurdon, P. R. T., The Khasi. Macmilan and Co., Limited, London, 1914 (Second edition).
[9] Nongkynrih, K. S., Around the Hearth. Khasi Legends. Penguin Books India, 2007. pp. 16-21.
[10] Ngapkynta, H. B., A Short History of Khasi Literature, Khasi Publishers Allied Society, Shillong, 2003 (6th Edition).
[11] Chowdhury, J. N., The Khasi Canvas, Chapala Book Stall, Shillong, 1978.
[12] Bhattacharya,  N. N., Environment, Land and People of Jaintia Hills. In Jaintia Hills- A Meghalaya Tribe – Its Environment, Land and People (eds Passah P. and Sarma S.) Reliance Publishing House, New – Delhi, 2002, p.3.
[13] Sidwell, P. and Blench, R., The Austroasiatic Urheimat: the Southeastern Riverine Hypothesis. In Dynamics of Human Diversity, Pacific Linguistics, 2011, pp. 317-345.
[14] Prokop, P. and Suliga, I., Two thousand years of iron smelting in the Khasi Hills, Meghalaya, North East India. In Current Science, 2013, Vol. 102, No. 6, pp 761-768.
[15] Pakem, B., Megalithic Problem of Meghalaya: A case study of Megaliths of Jaintia Hills. In Journal of North East India Council of Social Science Research, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1999, p. 4.
[16] Pakem, B., The Changing Power Structure of the Political Chieftainship, Journal of North East India Council for Social Science Research, 1977, Vol 1, No.1.
[17] Gait, E., A History of Assam (7th Edition), Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, 1997.
[18] Chowdhury, J. N., The Khasi Canvas, Chapala Book Stall, Shillong, 1978. P. 235.
[19] Ibid. p. 232.
[20] Gait, E., A History of Assam (7th Edition), Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, 1997.
[21] Devi, L., Ahom-tribal relations: A Political study, Assam Book Depot, Calcutta, 1968, p. 107.
[22] Mackenzie, A., The North-East Frontier of India, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 1999, p.217.
[23] Chowdhury, J. N., The Khasi Canvas, Chapala Book Stall, Shillong, 1978, p. 253.
[24] Hunter, W. W., A Statistical Account of Assam, Vol. II, Macmilan and Co. Limited, London, 1879, p 395.
[25] (Unpublished) Abstract of Population data of Khasi & Jaintia communities in Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi Districts of Assam, Barak Valley Khasi & Jaintia Welfare Organisation, Silchar.
[26] Interview with the Headman, Panichowki Reserve Punjee.