By Our Reporter
SHILLONG: Concerned citizens of Shillong on Saturday observed that being a democratic country, no law is enshrined in the Constitution forbidding an individual or community from upholding their traditional beliefs and practices. However such beliefs should not cause harm to others.
This observation was made during a Citizens’ Conclave on, ‘The Price of Superstition’ organised by ICARE in collaboration with the Shillong Press Club (SPC) at Khasi National Dorbar Hall here on Saturday in view of the rising trend of superstition-related cases in the state to the extent of lynching people in cold blood. The discussions were telecast live on local television channels.
Maintaining that it is the fundamental right of every citizen to follow their own faith or tradition, the participants observed that to imbed superstitious beliefs in the minds of others with a motive to bring harm to another person’s life is against the principle of any faith or religious beliefs.
“To say whether the belief in ‘Men-shoh-noh ‘or ‘U Thlen’ is a myth or a reality, is something that Khasi society needs to seriously discuss,” said President of the Seng Khasi, M Blah. He emphasized that no matter what the contention is, no religion would sanction the killing of another human being or impart evil beliefs to its followers.
“There are however, many opportunists who take advantage of this age old folklore to commit heinous crimes,” Blah said while stressing on the need to frame laws to deal with any superstition-related crimes which could otherwise tarnish the image of the indigenous community as a whole.
Echoing the same view, Pastor WC Khongwir from the Presbyterian Church, speaking in his personal capacity said “Evil is prevalent in every society but it is up to us to overcome such evils. Today we speak about conserving the environment and every living being so how can we even allow the death of a human being? Any death caused by superstitious beliefs should be condemned and should not be encouraged as no religion teaches its follower to defeat evil by taking lives,” Khongwir exhorted.
Former President Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong, HP Oflyn Dohling said he was not inclined to the idea of granting more powers to the Dorbar Shnong to tackle superstition-related crimes as the present arrangement already grants enough powers to the Dorbar to adjudicate on law and order problems within their jurisdiction. On the same note, Mawkhar Rangbah Shnong WHD Syngkon said that there is a need to strengthen the Village Defence Party (VDP) and the function of the Dorbar Shnong and to build closer ties with the police department.
FKJGP president Joe Marwein while refusing to believe in the existence of ‘U Thlen’ said “There are many beliefs in our culture which are similar to the beliefs of other communities across the world, however, the belief in ‘U Thlen’ is found only in the Khasi culture,” adding that this belief is a mere propaganda by some opportunists to cause harm to others as a result of jealousy or enmity.
Echoing Marwein, Meghalaya State Women’s Commission Chairperson, Theilin Phanbuh also said that the myth of ‘U Thlen’ is just a metaphor used by our ancestors to describe jealousy. “We need to get to the heart of the matter and scholars have to do in-depth research into the matter so that we arrive at the truth,” she added.
Meanwhile, describing every person who commits a crime as a ‘men-shoh-noh’, East Khasi Hills Superintendent of Police (City) Vivek Syiem said that so far, the police have never collected any evidence to prove the existence of ‘U Thlen’ or the alleged practice of witchcraft.
“In the course of our investigation, we have found that it is always a case of personal enmity which is given the interpretation of witchcraft and an excuse to cause harm to another person by involving the mob,” Syiem said adding it is mere conceptualization and there is a need for a mass movement throughout the State to enlighten people especially in the rural areas.
The Conclave observed that cooperation between the police and the traditional bodies is the need of the hour besides revisiting the entire educational system while suggesting it to be more liberal and adopt rational and scientific enquiry training approach and to also fast track investigation into crimes to prevent such crimes in the future.
The Conclave was widely attended and several organisations and prominent citizens of the state—Additional District Magistrate DM Wahlang, DIGP (Eastern Range) A Sunn, members of the Unitarian Church of NE India, members of the Catholic Church, local NGOs, members of the Meghalaya People of Human Rights Council, Chairman of the KHADC Fabian Lyngdoh, Former Nongkrem Legislator HS Shylla besides others attended and gave their considered views. .
The Conclave resolved to strengthening the existing laws and provisions to tackle such crimes committed by mobs on flimsy allegations of witchcraft and Nongshohnoh and stressed on the need to involve all sections of the community from the government, police to the Dorbar Shnong, faith-based organisations and local NGOs.