The Politics of Paranoia

Making women the scapegoat for the failure of politics 

Patricia Mukhim

Congratulations Mr HS Shylla for a masterstroke of a Bill. Indeed if not for the Khasi woman and her revolting baggage of the non-Khasi husband, life in Meghalaya would have been Paradise!  Why not banish women completely? It would make life easier for you and other politicians. Thank you indeed for importing the Khap Panchayat to Meghalaya where the KHADC will now decide who women will marry and who they should ‘not’ marry. You are not different from the Taliban either! In fact if you were to become the Chief Minister of Meghalaya that’s where you would take the State, wouldn’t you? Thankfully you lost the Assembly election in March this year.

Now hang on a minute. Are women really the cause of relentless corruption in the Khasi Hills District Council? Are women doing roaring benami business with non-tribals having deep pockets? Did women privatize all the community land including the water sources and are they the principal reason for the present landlessness in Meghalaya? Are they responsible for jobs not being created and Government running on auto pilot without a radar? So you use women as an excuse to camouflage all the failures of the Council!  How shameless is that!  

So here goes. On July 25, the Khasi Hills District Council came up with a grandiloquent proposal to ‘save’ this tiny population of 11 lakh Khasis from becoming strangers in their homeland (Khasiland) by proposing amendments to the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Khasi Social Custom Of Lineage Act, 1997, which received the assent of Governor in 2005). The previous Act accepted all children born out of a Khasi mother and non-tribal father who practice the Khasi customs. They continued to hold Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. This time the proposed Amendment reverses this clause. It says a Khasi woman marrying a non-Khasi male would be deprived of her ST status and so too her children. This has raised hackles of women who have been made scapegoats for a society that is torn between schizophrenia and paranoia about a perceived bleak future.

For a long time politicians have used fear as a weapon to spread a divisive agenda. They did that especially before elections to deflect critical questions about their non-performance and non-delivery. The District Council elections are scheduled for early 2019 and the Councillors are in election mode. In a State where people do not demand hard evidence and statistics for claims made, it is easy for politicians to mislead and create a fear psychosis that Khasis would disappear from the face of the earth if women are not reined in from marrying “outsiders.” The words “Tnga Dhkar” (wife of a non-Khasi) are uttered with such venom that you can literally see them foaming at the mouth.

Section 19 of the 1997 Act says, ‘Bar of jurisdiction of Civil Court:­’ No Civil Court shall have jurisdiction to settle, decide or deal with any matter or to determine any matter which is, by or under this Act, required to be settled, decided or dealt with or to be determined by the registration authority or the Executive Committee.’  What happens if Khasis excommunicated from the society because of marriage, desire to take the matter to a court of law to correctly interpret the fundamental right to marry a person of one’s choice? Can the KHADC prevent citizens from seeking justice?

Interestingly, in what is a typically patriarchal response which exposes the cleverly hidden facets of masculinity and patriarchy in Khasi matrilineal society, the Khasi male marrying a non-Khasi woman is exempted from the tentacles of the Act. For good measure, Shylla trots out a lame excuse that at some point the Act would also be applied to Khasi men marrying non-Khasi women. That the women legislators in the KHADC stoutly supported the Amendments suggests that they too are trapped in patriarchy.

The arguments in favour of the Amendments are that too many non-Khasi, non-tribals marrying Khasi women take advantage of the ST status of their wives to conduct their businesses without acquiring the mandatory trading license from the KHADC. They are also exempted from paying income tax. While it is a fact that some without any Khasi roots are taking advantage of their connection to some Khasi genes in order to claim certain benefits you cannot disenfranchise a whole community of women who marry outside their tribes and deprive them and their children of their Khasi and ST status. Not everyone is a merchant and the District Councils have enough laws to prevent fortune hunters from taking advantage of the local customs and traditions. That they have not done so shows the corruption that is embedded in the Councils.

Considering that Khasi society is matrilineal, the proposed Amendment by the KHADC at once discredits the time-tested Khasi culture.  And what if the lady who is excommunicated owns land? What happens to that land? Will it be impounded by the State or go to the next of kin? This is not going to stand judicial scrutiny and I am sure this Act will soon be challenged in a Court of Law. I hope someone does that before the Council elections because this Amended Act will become the election winning narrative. I can imagine Shylla saying, “Look I have tried to save the jaidbynriew (Khasi race) from falling into the precipice of destruction by outsiders who enter our economic system through our women.” And there will be claps galore…

Since 1979, Meghalaya has been held captive by the politics of paranoia. We fear that our jobs and other economic opportunities will be taken away by, “outsiders,” despite no hard evidence to support that claim and despite enjoying 80% reservation in employment and education. Creating this paranoia is essentially a political ploy. It is a tool for emotionally blackmailing a gullible, unquestioning citizenry that is never known to use the rational mind. This is further compounded by the fact that debates on issues that matter are not part of our electoral strategies. People love to listen to rhetoric; they love jokes, anecdotes, and candidates bashing their opponents in choicest language.  And at the end of the lecture it  clap, clap… clap and having food, drinks and the joyride back to their homes. It’s a good ‘paid’ day with no work done except to clap on cue. This is our democracy. It’s also true that money talks and bullshit (pardon my language) walks. So those with money but politically hollow and noisy will take the trophy.

HS Shylla is known for his crazy, populist moves.  In January 2007, when he was Chairman, KHADC he had a sudden brainwave to award women having a dozen kids and above. He gave monetary awards amounting ranging from Rs 15,000 – 16,000. His defence of this bizarre action while speaking to the BBC South Asia correspondent was, “We have enough land but if our Khasi people don’t grow in numbers, migrants from Bangladesh or elsewhere in India will occupy that living space. We are encouraging our people to grow more. The Khasi population is around one million in Meghalaya, but we want it to double in the next 10 years.”

Just thin! A onetime grant of Rs 16,000 which given to “fertile” women including one who had 25 deliveries is poor tokenism. Shylla has never followed up on how these women are faring with so many kids. This is how poverty is recycled.

What is currently proposed by the KHADC is a desperate remedy for something that is inherently flawed in the Khasi political DNA. One is the sheer lack of understanding of the science of governance and being pushed to take hasty decisions by interest groups with a vested agenda. Two, the reluctance for scientific enquiry and statistics before proposing remedies. Three, the absence of policies to take us to the goalpost. These all add up to the collective dystopia. Without policies to pin-point an area of potential growth how is government’s effectiveness measured? And now when repeated failures have compounded the problems and the inequalities in society are so blatant, these politicians are holding women squarely responsible for the political chaos. As if disenfranchising women would rectify all the political fault-lines.

The society is comfortable with slogans and rhetoric. Often we envision the brain to be an organ whose ultimate function is to think. We see it as a sort of biological headquarter for imagination, rumination and ideas. But while the brain does execute those functions, they are not the brain’s main agenda. The brain has evolved to control our bodies more than our minds, so that our bodies can manipulate our environment and govern our surroundings. For politicians who fail or are failing, the need to control the environment is extreme. They want to be in power at any cost and the brain directs them to that goal including taking decisions that will ultimately ruin society although they appear as if they are medicines aimed at healing societal sores.  What a catastrophe Indeed!

Will the women of Meghalaya fight this ultimate assertion of patriarchy?


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