Monday, June 24, 2024
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Jaidbynriew as idiom of ethno-political chauvinism

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By Patricia Mukhim

The word Jaidbynriew in Khasi is an exclusive term for defining the Khasi-Pnar people as opposed to others. It does not even include the Garo people who are an intrinsic part of the State of Meghalaya, leave alone other non-Khasis and non-tribals. Hence when this word is juxtaposed against mainstream politics and is dragged down to the landscape of governance we have a real problem. Normally the word Jaidbynriew is used concurrently with the word Hynniewtrep (meaning seven huts). The Khasis believe that Jaidbynriew Hynniewtrep is an exclusive race descended from a utopian like space. Whoever created that narrative has succeeded very well in keeping the Khasis imprisoned in that imagined state of existence. Realism can jolly well go out of the window. But a time has come for the word Jaidbynriew to be deconstructed and shorn of its jingoistic accoutrements so that it is not misused for political mobilisation. Also those who reject the idea of an exclusive Jaidbynriew should not be termed “dangerous fifth columnists.”
I often wonder whether a young person claiming to fight for the Jaidbynriew really understands what he is fighting for and who he is fighting against. What are those joining a militant outfit actually looking for? Is there altruism behind the move or simply the adventurism of carrying guns, the headiness of power and the thrill of exerting control and coercion through that the barrel of a gun. True there is desperation amongst a large section of youth when change is not palpable and does not come quickly enough; true that corruption in governance and politics is exasperating. But is the rhetoric of Jaidbynriew the antidote to all that’s wrong with politics and society? The HNLC was around for several years. What happened? Did the group address blatant corruption? No it did not because it needed to survive by tapping the very sources of corruption it publicly claims to be fighting.
Ethnicity and identity as platforms for launching political ideologies is passé. We experienced bloody tumults in 1979, 1982, 1987, 1992 but except for the fact that Bengali and Nepali people were dislodged from their hearths and homes, there was no other outcome. This was the political economy of the era. It was replaced by a period of militancy, of fear and intimidation until 2000. But was there any change in the way politics was done? None that we can see! On the contrary corruption has spiralled. Today there is rampant corruption in the PWD, PHE, Health and the Power Sector amongst others. Does anyone care that the roads within Shillong city cannot outlast one monsoon? Where do people repair roads every year without paying a penalty? Who is pocketing the money? Why are questions not asked about the unavailability of potable drinking water in most localities of Shillong or why citizens have to buy water from private water sellers? And at a more fundamental level, have any of these champions of Jaidbynriew spoken about the privatisation of community land, forests and water sources? These are greater threats to the society than the “Other” we have caricatured so assiduously all these decades.
That in the 21st century the Khasis have not been able to sift mythology from fact is rooted in the need for a unique identity assertion. Birendranath Datta in “Cultural Contours of North East India” says the myths are not articles of religious faith (since both Christians and those from the indigenous faith sing the same tune) but are markers of ethnicity, morale boosters and promoters of solidarity. But solidarity in what and for what? Solidarity implies a harmony of interests and responsibilities among individuals in a group, especially to support collective action for something. So we have seen solidarity being built around the idea of lifting the NGT ban although there is equal solidarity amongst those who also support the ban to save the environment. So solidarity is not always built around a good cause. And social solidarity and cohesion are difficult goals. If we believe that all Khasis think alike we are in danger of assuming a falsity. So does every Khasi believe in the notion of Jaidbynriew as an identity marker? Yet many are quick to rally round the idea of Jaidbynriew for reasons such as (a) the Jaidbynriew is in danger of losing its identity, its land, and its women who are marrying outside the Jaidbynriew. Ironically no attempts have been made so far to rally the Khasi community around the idea of fighting corruption, of reclaiming community resources like water, forests et al which have been subversively privatised by sections of the Jaidbynriew. Not once have we heard the proponents of Jaidbynriew speak about giving back land to the landless among the Jaidbynriew. Why do we rally around political slogans but not around social causes which are more worrisome? A few days ago a member of a prominent student organisation said at a meeting that in Mawlai people are digging tube wells and selling the water in tankers. Are these the characteristics of a community based ethnic group that still clings to its myths and where nature was a common resource? Or have the myths and slogans become a camouflage for all that is wrong with Khasi society?
R Radhakrishnan in his book, ‘Identity and Location, The Cultural Politics of Theory’ says that the politics of the placard and sloganeering is unclear as it is indeterminate. This is the kind of politics where voices are appropriated and assumptions sold cheap without any call for evidence. Michel Foucault says there is nothing more ignominious than being spoken for. He sees representation as disciplinary, panoptic and coercive. In Meghalaya we have always been represented by one or other interest groups. We have never had spontaneous peoples’ movements that arise out of a genuine need to protest against wrongdoings. While the recent storming of KHADC by the vendors of Iewduh is seen by some as a spontaneous, democratic protest against arbitrary demands for leadership change, I disbelieve this theory completely. There have been subtle mobilisations in Iewduh to get a crowd to protest at KHADC. But the crowd allegedly did more than that. They even stormed into some of the rooms in the Council. Is this democracy? Or is this a mob at work? Is this good for Meghalaya? One still has to discern the brain behind the so-called mob uprising. One is not taking a stand here for or against a leadership change in the KHADC. One is looking at the emerging political stratagem for public mobilisation. Are only the vendors of Iewduh the constituents of KHADC? Was there space for a counterpoint from other constituents?
That 21st century Meghalaya is still driven by identity slogans to ignite social and political passions exposes a social malaise. In the rest of India, particularly in caste-ridden Uttar Pradesh, people this time voted for change at the Centre. They have learnt to leave caste politics aside because it did not serve their interests. This must have come from rational thinking. When individuals in a society learn to think independently and are able to analyse the reasons for their continued depressed conditions then only will democracy work. As of today democracy is a jingoistic exercise of trying to prove who is more loyal to the Jaidbynriew and if you critique sections of the Jaidbynriew then you are the voice of the “Other.” That “Other” is caricatured as the outsider that pollutes this otherwise pristine society. He is exploitative, extractive, cunning, mean, dirty, contemptible and at the root of all our problems, real or imagined. Hence this beleaguered “Jaidbynriew” needs saviours. It needs people who can use their fists if need be to oust out the outsider.
But who are those champions of Jaidbynriew? Aren’t they the same people free-loading petrol from pumps belonging to the “outsider,” doing deals with the “outsider” extorting money from the outsider on different pretexts? Yet we from the Jaidbynriew shy away from blowing the whistle on our own because we need to be accepted. I salute HH Mohrmen for his courageous stand on the non-tribal bashing saga. Most of us would not dare take on the goons from our community for fear of reprisals. So do all of us have to take a pledge and say “My Jaidbynriew, good or bad?” Have we come to this point of disjunction in our political journey? Or will the sane and rational public intellectuals from the Khasi-Pnar society stand up and speak what needs to be spoken without the fear of being socially ostracised? The time has come. Jaidbynriew as a slogan is like the caste politics of UP. We have to jettison it and learn to be rational voters. The public must demand informed debates from their elected representatives and question them at every step of their journey. We need good leaders but not through sloganeering.

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