A Needless Controversy
By Albert Thyrniang
Last week there was a preventable controversy. The Hynniewtrep Youths’ Council (HYC), Sohiong Circle went public with its complaints to the CEM of KHADC alleging that at least three non-Khasi families were integrated(‘tangjait’) into the Khasi community. Based on information via RTI, the Youths’ council accused certain opportunistic persons (‘riew shim kabu’) of performing the ‘Tang Jait’ ceremony of non-Khasi couples and their children with connivance (‘ia don kti lang’) of the district council disregarding (‘iaid lait’) its responsibility. The sensational claims/revelations went viral on social media.
At the very first glance, the allegation could not be true. There might be individuals who might perform the ritual but to do it with the sanction of KHADC looks instantaneously impossible. This is not in hindsight. On 17th when this writer saw the complaint he immediately posted on Facebook, “Ban tang jait ia arngut shilok ki bymdei Khasi da kito kiba la shah kynthoh ryngkat bad ka jingiatreilang jong ka District Council? Ym lah sngewdei phi.”(to perform the ‘TangJait’ ceremony for non-Khasi couples by the accused with the connivance of the District Council does not appear plausible) The Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) Act, 1997 clearly states that “Tang Jait” is performed on the person or persons born of a Khasi father and a non-Khasi mother. So for the District Council to break its own law and for the alleged incidents to take place is inconceivable.
Predictably the CEM, Titosstarwell Chyne, in a news briefing, clarified that all the men mentioned in the lodged letter are in fact Khasis. The confirmation came after scrutinising the papers submitted to the District Council. The mistakes were in filling up the forms (Appendix A) where the surnames of the father/s appear as non-Khasi. The rest of the testimonials are in order as per the statement of the CEM. The matter should rest and the controversy end here. But lessons could be learned from this avoidable episode.
The HYC, Sohiong Circle seems to have jumped to conclusions too soon. It might be true that they based their objection on details obtained through RTI. However, the leaders of the organisation were told by the CEM to wait till he inquired into the matter and would meet them again. They didn’t do so and decided to release their findings to the world. They could have held their horses. Their motives are now free for interpretations. No one can be prevented from doing so. Was it a mere over enthusiasm or something else?
The decision of the HYC, Sohiong Circle to go to the press caused a lot of heartburns in the whole of Khasi-Jaintia Hills. Mentioned persons and those who are emotionally and politically associated with them were aggrieved. Former CEM, KHADC, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, during whose tenure the alleged illegal incidents took place gave a week’s time to the concerned to prove that he used his office as CEM for the ‘Tang Jait’ to be organised. Now will proofs be provided? Will Basaiawmoit proceed further? Will a compromise be worked out between the two parties? Will the supporters of Basaiawmoit be satisfied and pacified? Is there a hidden intention in naming the former Nongkrem legislator in the first place? The Sohiong Circle of HYC might have been wiser to be slower in judgement.
The most glaring (or made to be so) highlight is the first point in the first page of the letter which reads, “...la don uwei u briew uba kyrteng Bah Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh” (There is a person whose name is Mr Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh). This statement offended a lot of people. (Late) ‘Mr’.Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh was a well-known Catholic Priest, theologian and writer who was also well versed in Khasi customs and practices. The description was seen as disrespect to the renowned personality particularly because he is no more. The HYC, Sohiong Circle did clarify that the use of ‘Bah/Rangbah’ is not disrespectful as Khasi men are respectfully addressed so. The clarification also stated that the neutral prefix is not to give a communal colour to the issue. This seems unconvincing as in the ‘Signature of the person who performed the Tang Jait’ the initial ‘Fr.’ is clearly visible beside the seal of the institution he was a member of. Apart from it the tone of the letter sounds communally suspect. The HYC, Sohiong Circle might have discredited itself.
One important note worth remembering in life is that every story has two sides just like a coin. Even when things appear crystal clear there may be a clearer side. The photo copies in the RTI clearly indicated that the gentlemen are ‘Adivasi’, ‘Rajbongshi’ and‘Nepali’. But unfortunately they are only appendixes. Other documents that matter testify otherwise. A deeper dig would have saved all the blushes. An investigation would have spared the uncalled-for animosity and unpleasant verbal exchanges, online and offline.
The tendency in Meghalaya most of the times is ‘my way or the highway.’ Alternative opinions are not solicited. On ILP there is no discussion. On railway there is no debate. ILP has to be implemented. Railway should not come to Byrnihat. Alternative views are frowned upon, even interpreted as anti-‘Jaitbynriew’. The ‘Tang Jait’ affair teachers us that even extremes can converge. There could be meeting grounds even from diverse views. There is a centre of the right and the left. There is a middle path.
It is not only pressure groups who are averse to dissent but the government seems to resist negotiation. During the two weeks of transport strike the government refused to call the strikers to the table. The deputy CM, Prestone Tynsong was seen issuing ultimatum, like withdrawing commercial permits, rather than easing the tension.
The country is passing through a difficult phase where dissent is not tolerated. Anyone who dares to question the government or back those who are critical of the powers that be are threatened with arrest and life in prison. Journalists, social activists, intellectuals, even farmers are liberally awarded with FIRs, arrested and charged with sedition. The administration, the police and the law enforcers exhibit an inhuman face while cracking down on dissent. Do we in Meghalaya too want a similar situation? Then discourse is to be facilitated by both the civil society and the government.
Switch off the diversion! Our thread of thought back to the ‘Tang Jait’ issue! The cited families may have suffered emotional pain for no fault of theirs. Though they are well within the law they were unreasonably dragged into a pointless controversy probably due to a bit of carelessness. Who will make up for their ordeal? Will they receive an apology? Will an apology alone suffice?
There seems to be a philosophy of puritanism subtly prevailing in some quarters in the Khasi Society. May be it is an opportune and apt time to rid ourselves of the religious puritanism in the United Kingdom in the 17th century. To come straight to the point puritanism contributed to civil war in England. Should we be fore warned that division on religious lines or on any other unjustifiable form will lead to ‘civil wars’?It is destructive to attempt to identify who a ‘pure’ Khasi is and who is not. We are in the 21st century not in the 17th century colonial UK.
Evidences stand testified that we have been affected by social interactions with different groups of our fellow earth inhabitants. There is nothing dishonourable in acknowledging the truth. Our DNA has been contributed by others too. That DNA might have come through the mother or father or both, who knows? It is not only our ‘scientific being’ but our social and religious life has been influenced by other ways of life. One of our B.Ed teachers in PGT used to remind us, “look at the ‘jainspong’ (turban) and the ‘jainboh’ (dhoti). They are very similar to ones anywhere in India’. The other day there was a long list of illustrations of being Indian and Khasi.
This writer is currently residing at the Assam side of Umiam (Barapani) river. A good stretch of Meghalaya (Ri Bhoi district) and Assam is divided by the famed river. But the border existed only for less than 70 years. There was no Assam and Meghalaya prior to 1970/72. Social contact has been there from time immemorial. The beauty of this history of interaction can be seen in dresses, dances, festivals, food habits, dwellings, inter marriages and the like on both sides of the border. To this day cross-border marriages and ‘interchange’ of ethnic identity are common. Assuming of surnames is quite liberal. Madur, Madar, Maslai, Malai, Rongpi, Rongpeit, Khlein, Khlien are commonly interchangeable. The Meghalaya ADCs regularly descend maternally while Karbi Anglong ADC may do it paternally but the fact remains that we have evolved through social interface and it will continue to be so.
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