Saturday, April 13, 2024
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U Kiang Nangbah and Abrogation of Article 370

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By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

On the 30th of December, we are commemorating the 161st -death anniversary of U Kiang Nangbah, (the commoner), who led the local resistance movement, also known as the Jaiñtia rebellion, against the British Raj. The movement is an integral and vital part of the freedom movement in the Land of Hynñiewtrep. It is also to be remembered as the peoples’ resistance movement for Independence by the people of the erstwhile Hima Sutnga.
The memories of Kiang Nangbah and the resistance are mostly sourced by the written records of the British and other imperial historians. It is only much later that the story of Kiang Nangbah’s uprising was transported across the Land of Hynñiewtrep and India. Unfortunately, the Kiang Nangbah- movement is also being viewed through a myopic communal lens and today there are interest groups who are appropriating this historical piece to suit their grand imperial scheme pan-India. Such readings are nothing but the distortions of history and must be challenged.
Since the early decades of the 19th Century, local uprisings against the British were common which were led by the Syiem or traditional Chieftains of respective Hima and Prof MPR Lyngdoh coined it as the “Khasi Challenge.” The earliest was Syiem Bormanick of Hima Shyllong who marched to Dimuria to seize the revenue collected illegally by the Bristish officials in 1828. A year later, U Tirot Sing of Hima Nongkhlaw rose up in arms against the British East India Company and it resulted in the “Nongkhlaw Massacre.” Although the British Company had won the Syiem of Hima Sohra to their side, several other Himas (chieftainships), like Mawsmai, Sohbar, Wahlong, Pamsanngut, Mawdon, Shella and Dwara Nontyrnem formed an alliance to challenge the usurpation of political power by the Bristish Company over their territories.
The Hima Sutnga or Jaiñtia was one of the major and biggest Khasi States. It stretched from the “Thor” or valley in the present-day Bangladesh to the “Bhoi” or slope land and in between lies the ‘War’ or steep land and the ‘Pnar’ or table land. As early as 1774 the Syiems of Hima Sutnga had come into conflict with the British and as recorded by Pemberton, “In 1774 the Jynteah is said to have been attacked by a force under Major Henniker…” Later, Hima Sutnga was brought under the direct rule of the British in 1835 and the hills portion of the Hima was converted into the Bristish territory which later formed the part of the Khasi & Jaiñtia Hilla District. During the British rule, the Land of Hynñiewtrep was divided into the Khasi & Jaiñtia Hills District and the Khasi Native States. The former were British territories and all laws passed by British Parliament for India were applied and extended to them, whereas the latter were Independent States and had separate treaties with the British.
Under the direct rule of the British, Hima Sutnga was subjected to certain exploitative rule; one being the imposition of house tax and income tax in 1860 and 1861 respectively. The imposition of these arbitrary laws was the immediate cause for the people of Jaiñtia hills to resist and challenge the British regime. The imposition of these tax laws was unjust, arbitrary and directed against the poor, the infirmed, widows and even the deaths were not spared. As quoted by Prof M.P.R Lyngdoh from the statement of Bang Doloi of Raliang and Long Sutnga, “The very poorest, including widows had to pay…Old women who had no one at all to support them had to pay…The tax was oppressive, and the deceased people were included in the tax assessment…”
Against the backdrop of these arbitrary laws and atrocities perpetrated by Bristish Officials who were interfering in the local religious festivals at Ialong village, the “u khun u hajar” or Citizens of Hima Sutnga rallied behind their leader, U Kiang Nangbah, who had convened the peoples’ Dorbar at Syntu Ksiar (a locality in Jowai). The Dorbar discussed at length the impact of these tax laws on the people of Jaiñtia Hills, especially the peasants and the poor. The Dorbar resolved that the people must reject the foreign British rule and that the peoples’ uprising was mandated. The enraged people of Hima Sutnga rose up in the resistance in 1860, but it was subsequently suppressed in 1862, whereby Kiang Nangbah was hanged in public at Ïawmusiang in Jowai.
When India attained Independence on August 15, 1947, there were twenty-five (25) Khasi Native States which had separate treaties with the British Crown, and they were entitled to regain their sovereignty. Excepting Kashmir and Khasi States, all other Native or Princely States had merged with the Dominion of India and handed full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers to the Dominion of India. The Maharaja of Kashmir had signed only the Instrument of Accession and issued the proclamation to this effect that he accepted the Constitution of India. However, Article 370 was inserted in the Constitution of India to provide special provisions for Kashmir. On the other hand, in the case of the Khasi States which also signed the Instrument of Accession, it was opined that the they had expressed their acceptance to be governed by the Constitution of India by their participation in the first general elections in 1952 (L.G Shullai, Ka Kashmir bad Ki Khasi States (Kashmir and Khasi States). Although, the Sixth Schedule is appended to the Constitution to deal with the assertions of the Indigenous people of Assam, no special provisions were granted to the Khasi States, regardless of the Instrument of Accession that was signed between the Dominion of India and the Khasi States as stated in the Annexed Agreement.
In the Constituent Assembly held on 27 January 1948 two amendments to Rule 51 were moved and adopted thus- (i) that “representative” of any Indian State or States means the person who is chosen as a representative of such State or States in the Assembly in accordance with the provisions contained in Schedule to these Rules” and (ii) it includes a candidate whose name has been reported by or on behalf of the Ruler or Rulers of any Indian State or States to the President in the manner provided in the Schedule to these Rules as a duly chosen representative of such State or States.
The Schedule to Rule 51 subsequently changed thereby appointing the Maharaja of Tripura as convener for the group consisting of Tripura, Manipur and Khasi States. He was also responsible for selecting a representative for these Native States. In the Constituent Assembly session held on 4 November 1948, Mr. G S Guha was chosen to represent Tripura, Manipur, and Khasi States. Similarly, the Maharaja of Kashmir had the authority to select representatives and Kashmir sent four representatives to the Constituent Assembly, including Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah, Mirza Mohamad Afzal Beg, Maulana Mohamad Sayeed Masoodi, and Shri Moti Ram Bagda who attended their first session on 16 June 1949.
The constituent assembly played a dual role as both the parliament and the body responsible for drafting the Constitution during the interim period of power exchange in India. Therefore, it provided the space for diverse independent ethnic groups across the board to negotiate for special provisions and assert self-rule within the framework of the Constitution.
However, in 2019 the concept of autonomy was completely destroyed when the NDA led government by a brute majority, abrogated Article 370 and reduced the State of Jammu & Kashmir to two Union Territories. Subsequently, several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court. While the petitioners had pinned their hopes in the Apex Court, but it was to no avail as the Supreme Court upheld the abrogation.
Several generations ago, when Kiang Nangbah led the resistance, he might not have foreseen that nearly a hundred years later, the Khasi States would combine to negotiate for self-rule and autonomy. Thus, in the light of abrogation of Article 370, the question must be asked, what are the implications on the idea of autonomy which several ethnic groups in Northeast India, including the Hynñiewtrep people are still clamouring for? There is Article 371 and Sixth Schedule which grant special provisions to several States and the States in Northeast India.
Should Article 370 be restored to Kashmir? Is it plausible? The answer is positive, and we must not forget that the Government of India is still engaging in the negotiations with several insurgent groups, like the NSCN (IM), HNLC etc. and is yet to agree to a future framework of self-rule and autonomy with these ethnic groups. Meanwhile, what kind of iron clad guarantee will the Indian State give and assure that special provisions under Article 371 and Sixth Schedule will remain intact? Will the abrogation of Article 370 not impact the right to land, resources so far enjoy by the Hynñiewtrep people of Meghalaya?

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