Monday, February 26, 2024

No more candle-light vigils please

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By Abhijit Purkayastha

Biseshwar Das finally dies. With 50 pc burns, it must have been more profitable for the soul to have left the body than endure the pain. These candle light vigils are nothing more than melodrama – crocodile tears we shed, as if we ever cared. On Nov 30th when 30,000 pro ILP crowd met, was there a single word of regret for such mortals like Vikash or Biseshwar? No, not at all. In fact there cannot be, because there is a grudge and all these are minor incidents as against a bigger grudge that is simmering. Fabian Lyngdoh in his article to ST on 5th October (The crux of the grudge) provides an excellent insight into what has been going on in Shillong and the psyche behind it.

Those of you who have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf (refer the first few chapters of Vol I) will find an astonishing and striking similarity with what Fabian has mentioned about how Khasis view the non tribals and that of Hitler’s for the Jews. Hitler, is not to be inferred in the negative but understanding the psychology behind what causes racially motivated grudge. Hitler sees Jews in two critical aspects. One, of cultural (and religious) invasion and the other, of Jews eating into the opportunities of Germany. Fabian in his post articulates – “Enough rights have been given to the non-Khasi inhabitants in the Khasi and Jaintia hills especially in Shillong, in business, government jobs and other services. But if slight disturbance to the exercise of these rights crops up, our non-Khasi inhabitants feel offended and injured because there is the feeling of this common inheritance.”

The constitution of India has several provisions (Articles 13, 15, 19, 23, 29, 244, 275, 330, 332, 338) that guarantee protection of tribal rights and continuity of their own administrative bodies like the Dorbar (much like the Khap Panchayats). However, the Indian Constitution was framed post-independence in 1949 and became effective in 1950 while the non tribals of Shillong had been residing in Shillong since 1840s if we consider only those non tribals who were part of the Raj. There have been other non tribals as well even before Raj who were primarily involved in trade and commerce with the Khasis. This was but natural because Sylhet and Shillong were business counterparts to each other since ancient times.

Nowhere does the Indian constitution say that non tribals of such origin should transfer their land, business and jobs to the tribals after independence. True, non tribals had competitive edge and a penchant for academics and also there were few who took advantage of the backwardness of the Khasis then, but that does not nullify those who had by all legal means and hard work been into business, jobs and services. That is the reason why the Constitution adopted Reservation as a means of protecting the tribes and backward communities so that those with competitive edge do not take advantage of them. If we check the records, almost all general non tribals have been in Central Govt jobs while some were in State Govt by virtue of Shillong being the erstwhile capital of Assam. By clause 4 of Article 16 of Indian Constitution it is mandated that 40% seats in employment and education be reserved for Khasis, 40% for Garos , 5% for SCs and other STs. In short the non tribals and non Khasis who are working in State government are not doing so by any illegal means but by provisions of the law. More importantly in the last one decade hardly any non tribal is employed in the general quota in the State government in Meghalaya .

What Fabian calls enough rights is actually a painful insult to what non tribals are actually sanctioned with in reality. Non tribals can’t even venture to some places after 6 pm; in fact the right to life itself is questionable. A comparison with Mizoram where all jobs and businesses belong to only Mizos is a an example that Fabian brings to support his argument of “enough rights” bestowed on non tribals of Shillong. I wish Mizoram was indeed a good example. Unfortunately it is not. Despite Mizoram’s protectionist moves, unemployment in Mizoram is rising. Fresh engineering graduates of Mizoram who previously got easy entry to PWD, PHE etc. now face hurdles. Jobs are not there and even those treasured few that crops up are taken away by influential Mizos for their preferred candidates. Mizo students are seen across Shillong’s schools, colleges and universities and elsewhere in India. The unemployment crisis is now leading some sections of Mizos to trigger the anti India vitriol again. With no non tribals left to blame , the target then becomes India as a whole and Central Govt in particular. So despite being legal and constitutionally instituted for the rights that we non tribals have, why does it appear to be incorrect for the Khasis? The answer lies in the word “mynder” or “dkhars” meaning outsiders. It comes from this deep feeling that after all non tribals are foreigners irrespective of the fact they belong Constitutionally to India and have shared a common past with Khasis for almost 150 years now.

The French settlement in Pondicherry or the Portuguese in Goa and Parsis in Mumbai were all foreigners at some point of history. Today it’s a national shame to call them foreigners . Do we question their rights? Do we consider them different from Indians? But in Shillong non tribals will be foreigners forever to the Khasis, why? The answer is found in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Hitler sees this problem as cultural and racial. To him a Jew is a Jew and can never be indoctrinated into German “Aryan” symbolism. This is similar to the sentiment “Khasi by blood” . A puritan view that Hitler had was that the only way to save Germans is to keep that Aryan blood unpolluted. The final solution being Jews must go.

Fabian writes – Our non-tribal and non-indigenous tribal residents of Meghalaya feel they are the permanent settlers as they have nowhere else to go but they still enclose themselves in their own cultural cocoons, socialising and indoctrinating their own members as distinct, apart from the indigenous tribals. In Mein Kampf Hitler raises the same issue. Religion, race and culture is what Hitler concludes to be the key differentiator.

The same applies to the non tribals of Shillong. Since 1979 till now almost every non tribal killed by a Khasi is invariably a Hindu and that is not a co-incidence. The fact that most non tribals did not convert to Christianity has been a discomfort factor. In fact the 1979 riots originated from an alleged desecration of a Hindu image that was denied by the Laitumkhrah Dorbar. This led to massive flare-up with official deaths of Hindus as per the Sharma Commission being more than 100. What Shillong witnessed at the behest of the Dorbar was a scene straight from pre- holocaust days. Non tribals were ordered to keep their shops closed, owners asked their tenants to vacate, worship was restricted, fine was imposed on them and atrocities including rape was committed. However, 21 years later the same Dorbar refuted that the two locals were actually innocent. By the way the Nepalis and Punjabis who converted to Christianity post 1980 are usually not targeted.

So do these similarities between Jews of Nazi Germany and plight of non tribals of Shillong mean that a holocaust, albeit at a lower scale, is in the offing? The answer is no. Primarily, because non tribals of yester years have left Meghalaya and even North East, almost completely and the trend has increased with every passing year. Second reason is because the Indian Constitution has answers to almost all issues and is open to changes so every issue can be resolved Constitutionally without resorting to hatred. Lastly the world economic pressures will sooner or later make Khasis realize that protectionist movements with racial intent does not help and in fact Khasis themselves will have to spread out to other parts of India and abroad for better employment.

Biseshwar Das, rest in peace. You are the odd 300+ official entry of victims killed in Shillong so far since ’79. All that we non tribals can do is await, who is next to be added to that list and by what means.

“I do not see why man should not be just as cruel as nature” – Adolf Hitler

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