Dorbar Shnong, a dominant force in fighting Covid19 and beyond

By Melari Shisha Nongrum

Watching the television when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on March 24, 2020 ordered a 21 day lock down and exhorted 1.3 billion people in the country to stay inside our homes for three weeks, what went through our minds? Everyone was concerned about survival, about food. Would my rice sack last for 21 days? Many were panicking as to whether our stocks would be enough for such a long time. The state government immediately swung to action by assuring the public that there was no need to panic and that food would be available. But how this was going to play out, was something we had to fathom.

The Dorbar Shnong stepped in and played its pro-active role. I stay in Lawjynriew, Nongthymmai and I salute the Rangbah Shnong and other leaders of our locality Lawjynriew.  A day after the lockdown the Dorbar Shnong has taken the lead in providing basic ration of essential commodities to each and every household while maintaining the safety norms of social distancing. Announcements for such facilities were repeated and clear to everyone and we didn’t need to stand in long queues. When the vehicle passes through a certain location, the announcement would be made and all the people staying in that locality would wait at their own gates and give the list of goods needed to the volunteers and then we would pick up our goods once they were ready. This has continued and every three to four days, all basic commodities from cereals, pulses, eggs, meat, vegetables and even bakery items from the locality were made available at our door step. The Dorbar Shnong regulated the number of shops to be opened during the days where shops were allowed to be opened. Moreover, the Dorbar Shnong urges its people to stay home and stay safe and to not come out unnecessarily and that if they needed to buy essential commodities, to strictly maintain social distancing.  With this system in place, the worry of the availability of food is gone and the residents need not hoard food items since they know there will be sale of basic essentials in the next 3 to 4 days.

Apart from providing  essential commodities, the Dorbar Shnong networked with the local church and provided emergency health services also especially to poor and needy households. They also created three counters in the locality to assist the daily wage earners to apply for the wage compensation from the Department of Labour, Government of Meghalaya.  Spraying disinfectants was regularly conducted and announcements were made before it was done.

This is a case in point. I have friends who have told me that several other Dorbar Shnong have also taken similar initiatives.  In rural areas, I have reports of the Rangbah shnong going to commercial areas to access food grains not only for himself but for the community at large.

All along we might not have realised the utility of the Dorbar Shnong. Sometimes we questioned the relevance of the Dorbar Shnong and traditional governance in modern society? We have seen the Dorbar Shnong play a role in community life and local administration. Matters relating to sanitation, supply of potable water, disposal of garbage, construction of drains and footpaths are mostly handled by the Rangbah Shnong and Dorbar shnong. It has also been assisting the government on issuing epic cards, ration cards and aadhar cards. Of course, there has been criticism of the Dorbar Shnong  in matters relating to the issuing of the “No Objection Certificate” and ostracizing people in some communities.

Nevertheless, after seeing how the Dorbar Shnongs have played a proactive role in ensuring basic facilities in this time of crisis, I see a future for the Dorbar Shnong  to go beyond its role of issuing certificates and to play a more positive role in building communities. Recently, I had conducted a study on the well-being of children of urban poor households in three localities of Shillong. One important finding that has emerged from this study is the impact of the social environment on the children’s well-being. The social environment in these communities was found to be negatively impacting the lives of children. Children were regularly exposed to alcohol abuse in their homes and neighbourhood, smoking, fights and quarrels along with foul language from a very young age. One of the impacts is that 72% of the children (average age 13 years) smoked on a daily basis and have started smoking when they were as young as 7 and 8 years old. We may say these are personal/family matters. But I beg to differ. This is a grave social issue.

The Dorbar Shnong can play a protective role in curtailing such activities. For instance, the implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 which has laid down stringent punishment for those selling tobacco products and cigarettes to minors could be made more stringent. Also, a proactive initiative for children’s welfare by creating a committee on child welfare with the objective of seeing that no child is in distress. For instance, there were 18.3 % of children (n=213) below 14 years of age who dropped out of school. Can this matter be taken up by the committee and be reported to the child welfare committee and other relevant authorities in the government? Sport and recreation activities for children during holidays or weekends which is handled by professionals can be initiated by this Committee. Research has shown that positive community norms/ initiatives bring out positive outcomes. In essence, the Dorbar Shnong need not only implement government programmes, but take positive initiatives for enhancing the wellbeing of its residents.

I believe that it is not only in these trying times that the Dorbar Shnong will be relevant but there is so much more that these traditional institutions can do to positively impact the communities in the shnong.

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