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Patricia Mukhim’s article “Do we want modern governance or traditional institutions” (ST 6th Feb 2015) by its title put a very vital and practical question which I believe all concerned must give a serious thought to. The answer to the above is either “yes” or “no”, but whichever view we take it must be founded on some reasoning. Ever since the judgment of the High Court of Meghalaya has come up on the role of Headman and the issue of NOCs, there have been several news reports and many writers through your esteemed daily have put forward their views over the current issue. I have never missed going through these write ups, but sadly, I fail to come across a writing where the authors have ever stressed on the need to involve our women folk in the affairs of the Dorbar Shnong. It is only in the above mentioned article of Patricia Mukhim that I have come across the word ‘women’ and ‘gender representation’.
No doubt, ours is a matrilineal society and we are proud of it and this goes to show that women in our society are held in high esteem. But it is indeed very strange to see that in our society women cannot hold office in the Dorbar Shnong. The Constitution of India not only grants equality to women but also empowers the State to adopt positive measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and neutralize the cumulative socio economic, education and political disadvantages faced by them. Fundamental Rights, among others, ensure equality before the law and equal protection under the law; prohibits discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and guarantees equality of opportunity to all citizens in matters relating to employment. Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 16, 39(a), 39(c) and 42 of the Constitution are of specific importance in this regard.
The KHADC an autonomous body under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India had framed rules and regulations for the appointment of Rangbah Shnong but the restrictions continued for the women in participating in the election/selection of Rangbah Shnong, least to mention about putting their candidature for the appointment as Headman. We are now in the 21st Century and in the present age, can an institution like Dorbar Shnong be allowed to continue? To my understanding, an institution like ours which bars women folk from participating is in conflict with constitutional rights guaranteed to women. As such the relevance and continuance of such institutions is questionable. We talk about women’s empowerment and we project to the world that ours is a matrilineal society and therefore in our society women enjoy equal rights at par with their male counterparts if not more. However, the reality is bitter.
Legally, a custom to be valid must be (i) ancient and long followed, (ii) unambiguous and (iii) not opposed to public policy and so on. Customs likes “sati” (practice of burning of the widow on the pyre of her husband), “Dowry”, Bull Fight… etc however long followed had ultimately been abolished and one reason for this is that these so called customs were opposed to public policy. In light of this, can we claim that the concept, composition and functioning of our traditional institution is not opposed to public policy?
Women’s representation in the Dorbar Shnong is the need of the hour and this can be ensured by way of their election/selection or nomination in the Dorbar Shnong. Now, when even in the religious field the restrictions imposed upon the fairer sex had been removed, I wonder how and under what circumstances our custom of restricting the women from participating in the Dorbar Shnong could be allowed to continue. What is the rationale behind such restrictions in the present context?
My suggestion, is that it is high time we overcome the dogmatic approach that we have towards the women folk in the matter of their participation in the Dorbar Shnong. The provisions of law affecting women significantly should be reviewed and amendment be carried out to keep pace with the emerging requirements. Therefore, the KHADC needs to be more sensitive on gender equality and the State Government must not allow any practice to continue which is anti-women as well as in conflict with the provisions of our Constitution. It also necessitates that the Meghalaya State Women Commission keeps an eye on the present developments and ensures that women’s rights prevail. But no politics please!
If the traditional institution cannot adapt to change and ensure equality to women than there is definitely a need to opt for modern governance.
Can we have unsustainable development?
It is good to see the Forest and Environment minister emphasizing that the states forest resources will not be misused and that the Meghalaya Eco-Friendly Student’s Union (MEFSU) is asking for a better and stricter definition of forest. However, I am unclear as to the reasons for the need to change the definition of forests by the Autonomous District Councils. My questions are: Who will benefit from the changes made? Will it be the state in general or a few pockets of society? How much of the forest could potentially suffer if this change takes place? Will Meghalaya learn from its mistakes of unsustainable development? The water from the rivers originating from coal rich areas are acidic some even reaching ph 2. Entire hills and forests have been lost to limestone mining and the flora and fauna lost due to unabated unsustainable development. We have to decide what we want now and for our future generations as well. If the decisions taken by a few could impact the state negatively we need to voice our concerns.
There is a need to recognize those who have struggled and continue to fight to keep our unique natural resources intact and lend them a hand whenever there is threat.