Analysing the Khasi mindset in the 21st century

By Patricia Mukhim

Khasis are humans, much like other humans on this earth. They have neither special attributes nor collective fault-lines. To believe we are a special race is some kind of quixotic memory because all tribes – Nagas, Mizos, Karbis, Dimasas, Bodos believe they are a unique race with a unique history. Fact is we are all earthlings and suffer the same pangs of hunger, pain, love, hatred, passion and the other emotions. From what is apparent today, Khasis don’t think much and nor do they allocate big chunks of time during the day when all they’re doing is thinking. What’s most worrying is that even the intellectual class populating our universities don’t contribute to the intellectual capital of the society. Most universities and colleges with a majority of tribal teaching faculty score poorly for not producing enough articles in peer reviewed journals. And its not that these faculty have not done work; most of them have reams to document but don’t get down to writing their learning experiences. Writing somehow seems to pose a monumental challenge. Perhaps that spirit of competition with others who produce books and articles regularly is absent. Sure, we are a society of oral traditions but that’s not enough in the 21st century. People want to gauge the Khasi intellectual scale and whether they go deep enough into an issue before proposing a solution to any problem.
Khasi society is today buffeted by a number of social issues but we spend the large parts of our daily lives breathing, living and talking politics. We discuss what’s wrong with the present political system and we do that nearly every day but it ends there. Trying to change the present crass, hugely corrupt political system requires more than talking about it and letting off steam until we meet another set of friends/acquaintances before we launch into another tirade against those ruling Meghalaya today and those who have held its reins it in the past. Not once have I heard anyone giving a call for an honest conversation, without any finger-pointing and holier than thou attitude to sit across the table and to do some critical thinking. So what is critical thinking? Simply put critical thinking is a process of analysing facts, listening to contesting voices and arriving at a point where we form a judgment. In short it means ‘thinking about thinking.’ We don’t spend enough time to think even about our political struggles and what outcomes we desire from certain public actions.
On the Cherister Thangkhiew killing the Mawlai public has shown that it will not take things lying down and has therefore come up with some creative strategies but with no outcomes. The Government of the day is unbending in its stand of not suspending the two IPS officers until a judicial inquiry finds them culpable of violating sections of the law in the post-midnight raid of Cherister’s home leading to his being gunned down. The judicial inquiry is given three months to complete its task but like others before it, a judicial inquiry has no outer limit. It could take a year or more before all the facts are established and report is finally out. By then most people (the ones who are agitating today) would have reached a point of compassion fatigue.
Politicians know us more then we know ourselves. They know our Achilles heel. They know how much we are worth and at what’s the tipping point at which we can finally be silenced on critical issues. Let’s not deceive ourselves and proclaim aloud that we are not legal tender and don’t have a price on our loyalties and our choices. At the right price we are all prone to being bamboozled into toeing a certain line. Isn’t there a price for keeping silent on the illegal coal trade and the coke units that are killing our own people through slow poisoning? Do we need to look too far?
As a people we are comfortable letting others fight our battles because we are too busy running our lives. But letting ourselves being swept along by the tidal wave of busyness is a sure way of making mistakes and losing the big picture. Former President Obama once observed that ‘making good decisions was at the core of good politics, and good decisions were the result of good thinking.’ The question to ask our politicians here is “How much time do they set aside for thinking of the larger issues of public service and governance?” Do they actually even think critically about public issues without pushing forward their selfish business agenda? Do they care about the state considering they can afford to settle abroad if they choose to with the amounts they have earned from personal businesses and all under the brazen pretext of serving the people of Meghalaya?
Coming back to our capacity to think critically or the absence of it which has brought us to this abyss of philistinism let me inform those who think that surfing Google for all answers to life’s problems does not even remotely resemble thinking. Cyber loitering does not qualify as ‘thinking’ and we as humans cannot thrive without engaging in real thinking. To those that are addicted to social media- its is important to remember that communicating is only as good as what is being communicated. And that brings me to the WhatsApp forwards and Facebook content that bring out the most obnoxious side of our society. Such forwards and social media content don’t come from a thinking mind. They only manage to create a solidarity or a consensus among the unthinking populace and this reduces the space for physical societal communication. In fact most of us now live in the filter bubble where we congregate with people having similar likes and dislikes and feed off each other’s biases and prejudices.
We are a society that has not learnt to argue logically and to respect counterpoints. Dissenting voices are needed because there are different approaches to solving a problem. Dissenting voices and disagreements do not need to turn people into enemies. But that’s what has happened in Khasi society. If you disagree with the mainstream Khasi thought process then you are the enemy. Such pettiness is the anti-thesis of progressiveness which societies benefit from. To consider anyone who has a different viewpoint as the enemy reflects a deep sense of insecurity. Our political space is occupied by such insecure people – insecure about losing the next elections and what that will do to their long-term business plans!
Sadly, today even scholarship is reduced to scouring the internet for dissertation contents. Most of us engage in successive and quick horizontal searches that fail to do justice to complexity and nuance. Every society tends to behave in certain ways that are nuanced towards the cultural heritage and the baggage of history and memory that we carry. We cannot understand the complexities of Khasi society today by relying on what writers of the past have penned about us. Nearly all writers have extolled our virtues. None has had the courage to point to our societal flaws because we are slaves of oral tradition which usually tends to leave out unpleasant facets of our behaviours.
The fact that some aspiring writers translate the word ‘Syiem” to mean king (in line with the British royals) shows how shallow our own understanding of our past is. The Khasi word syiem is equivalent to a chieftain or a village head that people looked up to, to provide leadership in a crisis or a conflict. The Khasis are not a hierarchical society and are not arranged that way. It was the British that brought in those elements of ‘kingship’ because it was easier for them to negotiate for land with that single entity than with a group of villagers. The British had a taste of how a particular meeting in a Khasi village lasted more than a day before the community could come to a final decision.
We have come a long way since then but are we any better in our thinking processes? It is imperative that we spend quality time to devote to thinking so that we have a pro-active plan instead of reacting all the time. We need a long term plan on how to handle a mercenary government.

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