Exclusiveness of the Khasi, Jaiñtia & Garo Autonomous District Council

By Aristotle Lyngdoh

            The debate on the proposed amendment to the Sixth Schedule has been going on for a while now. Various organizations have expressed their views, suggestions and arguments to the proposed amendment brought up by the central government. The MDA Government too in the state of Meghalaya through the Honourable Dy CM has clarified its stance on the matter followed by counter arguments from the opposition members. Lest the matter aggravates into unwanted confrontation and tension among various tribes, it is better that we should clearly look into the provisions specified in this Schedule of the Constitution and the debate of the Constituent Assembly then that finally necessitated the creation of this Schedule.

            I believe it is a fact that the passage for the creation and incorporation of the Sixth Schedule into the Constitution was not a smooth one. Many aspersions were cast by other members opposing the idea of a separate autonomous body such as the District Council for the hills people of Assam. The reason for such apprehension and opposition perhaps stemmed from the lack of knowledge on the culture and aspirations of the hills people or tribal people by those living in the plains. As far as the Khasis and other tribals are concerned, they too have their own indigenous system of governance which is democratically sound and healthy. And their practices have been there since time immemorial. When the idea to integrate into the new independent India emerged, the prominent thought and apprehension was the fear of cultural assimilation of these tribal people which in no way conforms with the Indian mainland. Therefore, without securing a constitutional provision exclusively for them to safeguard their cultural identity, perhaps till date the political relations between these advanced tribes and the rest of India would have been on a different footing. But by granting Autonomous districts for these hills people, the Constitution is fulfilling the spirit of fair decentralization and promoting local self governance for the purpose of inclusive governance. And this is one way for achieving that objective.

 Further, the demand for creation of District  and Regional Councils during the Constituent Assembly debate was also because of the fact that a vast area and region are governed by the indigenous system of these Hills people for many centuries having their own system for land, social and political administration. These establishing factors that the Hills or tribal people possess, qualifies them to be granted with special autonomous bodies in order to regulate themselves according to their age old tradition within the framework of the Constitution. Thus, the Constituent Assembly and subsequently the Constitution of India has exclusively defined the region inhabited by these tribes in Part I, II & III of Para 20 of the same schedule. For instance, Part 1 constitutes the North Cachar Hills district, The Karbi Anglong District & the Bodoland Territorial Area District. Part II Constitutes the Khasi Hills District, The Jaintia Hills District & the Garo Hills District, Part III constitutes The Chakma District, The Mara District & the Lai District.

Now, where does the question of unrepresented tribes arise? Technically speaking, and based on the nature on which these autonomous councils was created by the Constituent Assembly based on cultural aspirations any attempt to include other tribes which are culturally estranged will only endanger the culture and tradition of that tribe unless they are ready to be assimilated into the domain of the former. If that happens then it is madness. No tribe in the world wishes to get assimilated by another. Furthermore, such an attempt seems to be politically motivated in order to gain political mileage and at the same time it will only bring confusion and chaos to the entire community.  But with due respect to unrepresented tribes within the Khasi, Jaintia & Garo Autonomous Councils, the question to ask is:  Where were they during the creation of these various autonomous districts in the country? But fortunately, Sub Paragraph (2) of Para 1 of the Sixth Schedule has clearly stated, “If there are different scheduled tribes in an autonomous district, the Governor may by public notification, divide the area or areas inhabited by them into autonomous regions”. Therefore, if any government or representative is attempting to include any tribe within any autonomous district rather than creating or granting such tribes along with their area a separate autonomous region, it is committing a great blunder on the whole society. When it is clearly mentioned that the governor can notify the creation of an autonomous region for a particular scheduled tribe or tribes, then why is the government reluctant to give due recognition as autonomous region within the state for these unrepresented tribes? Why embark on the policy of generating unnecessary confrontation? 

The purpose of the 6th Schedule is to give the opportunity for the people of Khasi-Jaintia & Garo Hills to protect and preserve their cultural identity and their system of governance. In the context of their unique identity and their culture and tradition I personally feel it is improper and inappropriate for any other tribes to get themselves involved in the affairs of other tribes and this is a common sense. But I am afraid that nowadays we have politicians who have weird ideas and mentality good for creating confusion. Therefore, I urge upon our state leadership in the government and the central government as well to avoid the politics of appeasement but rather to do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will as part of the oath they have taken. 

In conclusion, considering the number of numerous tribes existed today, it will not be possible for the government to create numbers of autonomous region or district. In such circumstances the best way is for them to get due representation in the state legislature or parliament which are designed to accommodate each and every section of the people living in a country. 

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