By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
“For hundred twenty-one years the entire region of Hynniewtrep was under the British Imperialists and we have had our own share of miseries and pains under the British yoke. But yet in our own ways and ingenuities resisted against the mighty British Empire, challenged the corrupt and exploitative representatives of the Merchants of London who worked as political agents cum judges and administrators etc.”
We read or rather studied in history books about invaders and marauders who invaded foreign lands to expand their political or economic empires and enslaved those communities they invaded. The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, which was popularly known as the East India Company was founded in 1600. The Company gained foothold in India with the establishment of a factory in Masulipatnam on the eastern coast in 1611 and the grant of rights to establish a factory in Surat in 1612 by the emperor Jehangir. The turning point in the history of the British East India company were the victories in the battles of Plassey and Buxar in 1757 and 1764 respectively, which finally enabled the merchants of London to consolidate their powers in India. By the Government of India Act 1858, which gave the Crown of England the suzerain power, they (merchants) cemented their reign in India for 200 years and Mr L.G Shullai, (Khasi political historian) wryly described it as, “Ki Nongkhaїi ki kylla Nongsynshar” (The Merchants who became Rulers).
The British East India Company extended their interests in the North Eastern parts of the Indian sub-continent via the treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. There are just two celebrated stories of resistance against the British being projected in these hills, namely, the Nongkhlaw rebellion in 1829 which was led by the Syiem Tirot Sing and the Jaintia rebellion in 1860 led by the commoner known as u Kiang Nangbah. Interestingly we tend to forget Syiem Bormanick of Hima Shyllong, the first Khasi Syiem who put up a formidable challenge against British expansionism and who marched to Dimuria or Doomerah and confronted the officials of the East India company for illegally taking over the revenue collection at Doomerah without the consent of the Hima in 1828.
For hundred twenty-one years the entire region of Hynniewtrep was under the British Imperialists and we have had our own share of miseries and pains under the British yoke. But yet in our own ways and ingenuities resisted against the mighty British Empire, challenged the corrupt and exploitative representatives of the Merchants of London who worked as political agents cum judges and administrators etc.
On the eve of India’s independence and as per the Independence Act 1947, the Hynniewtrep people and their relatively small Hima or native States numbering 25 of them had the liberty to choose to either join with India or Pakistan or to remain independent. The third option was not a viable one as they were small in size and would not have been able to survive on their own nor withstand any external aggression even if they stood united as one single entity. Therefore, the Khasi native States opted to accede to the Dominion of India and separately signed the Instrument of Accession between 1947 and 1948.
The British rule has had an adverse impact on tribal life, culture, religion, governance and politics, land and natural resources etc. But after Independence things were redirected towards massive transformation with the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and its foundational values of justice, equality, plurality and democracy. There is no denying the fact that during the course of framing the Constitution and Constituent Assembly sessions (December 1946 to November 1949) there were sharp differences within the Hynniewtrep community with regards to the position of the Khasi tribal community within the larger Indian State vis a vis the plight and future of the Khasi native States.
Were the Hynniewtrep people able to negotiate and address their issues and aspirations for self-determination within the framework of the Constituent Assembly? It is still debatable. There were mainly two political divisions, viz, the Federation of Khasi States, which included all the 25 native States and other individuals and the Khasi Jaintia Federated State under the patronage of Rev JJM Nichols Roy. The former, were non compromising on the status of Khasi States as per the terms of Agreement or Instrument Of Accession (IOA) signed by them. In fact, the Mylliem State represented by Sati Raja filed a case against the Dominion of India in the Federal Court in 1949 and sought for transfer of suzerain power to the Hima or State of Mylliem. But due to political exigencies withdrew the case in the larger interests of India. The latter felt content with the mechanisms provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution for safeguarding the tribal rights. Prior to this it was expressed and resolved in the mass gathering held on 2 August 1946, in Students’ Field Jaїaw Shillong thus; “ Be it resolved that this unprecedented and great gathering where thousands of representatives from Khasi States and British Areas are present from all parts of the District express their ardent desire and demand that they should be united into one Khasi-Jaintia Federated State along the lines planned by Rev J.J.M Nichols Roy, and to be connected with the province of Assam in certain subjects, only…”
Monday, June 27, 2022 marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills District Council in 1952 and the full-fledged tribal State of Meghalaya was inaugurated 50 years ago in 1972. Ironically the District Councils are now marred by allegations of corruption, nepotism and ineptitude. Similarly in the past few decades the State had miserably failed to meet the aspirations of the tribal inhabitants in particular and the citizens in general. The land regulation meant to preserve and protect against land alienation and wanton destruction of natural resources for self-aggrandisement are being diluted. Perhaps, the Benami Act and Trading Regulations have become means to get rich quick. Therefore, U Soso Tham’s analogy of the Gibeonite in his introduction to Ki Sngi Barim u Hynniewtrep (Olden Days of U Hynniewtrep) holds true and that the downfall of “Jaidbynriew” or Community is due to its own actions.
We are today reeling under the perception that the miniscule tribal community will be overwhelmed by populous communities from outside. No doubt, there are anxieties that small tribes (including Hynniewtrep) face about losing their culture, identity and livelihood but this anxiety cannot be removed by criminalities. Protections given by the Indian Constitution for the indigenous community are not in any way opposed to the rights of peace and security that non-indigenous people and workers are supposed to enjoy within the State. Moreover, it is worrying that laws that offer protection for the life, Land and Livelihoods of the indigenous people are being weakened by indigenous people themselves for their self-aggrandizing capitalist greed.
The rising incidents of crime against non-indigenous daily laborers across the city is alarming. There are unreported incidents that tourists too are being targeted. Talking of tourism which now seems to be booming in the State, it must be noted that tourism does not only mean rainfall, water falls, mountains, rivers, canyons, dresses, statues, viewpoints etc but there are also visitors, both foreign and domestic, whose interest is to meet face to face with people in order to learn and engage with our ethos and culture. Should we beat up every visitor or every worker when he/she sets foot into our localities and count them as invaders? Reza M. Sheeba Seydeek, a student from Kerela, who faced the unprovoked attacked in Jaїaw area recently penned down as follows, “The social issues and their (Khasis) grievances regarding their social security, job, land ownership, and culture all should be protected and are genuine. Meghalaya government… and the authorities who neglect the tribes are only responsible for this (attack). The socio-political issues faced by them should be put forward by political organisations with progressive politics and… not through mobocracy.” Very well observed by a scholar of social science who was in the state for a brief period as an internee with some NGO.
I sincerely appeal to one and all, especially my tribesmen and women, young and old alike – let us work towards a democratic solution to the problems plaguing the Community. We begin by separating targeted violence from normal fights. Also, we should not be denying the existence of targeted violence; instead we should condemn it. We must remember that a crime is a crime and it has to be tackled head on as per the law. We stand firm where we have to stand firm and be considerate where we ought to be considerate. We should not be bought. Let reason, the rule of law and the Constitution prevail.
“On the eve of India’s independence and as per the Independence Act 1947, the Hynniewtrep people and their relatively small Hima or native States numbering 25 of them had the liberty to choose to either join with India or Pakistan or to remain independent. The third option was not a viable one as they were small in size and would not have been able to survive on their own nor withstand any external aggression even if they stood united as one single entity.”