Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Meghalaya State Anthem


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By Prof PM Passah

Throughout the past week (Jan. 21–26) and later The Shillong Times had carried interesting debates on the above topic almost on a daily basis and the debate might continue while the protest would escalate in various forms until the controversy is removed. We from Jaintia Hills thank you most gratefully for the spirit of journalism and the good sense of democratic principles. The credit goes to the Jaintia Students’ Union which had thrown the gauntlet (S.T. Jan.21, 2024) to the State Government and the MLAs & an MP from Jaintia Hills. Following this, the MP responded the next day while it took two days for the MLAs to wake up.
Briefly in history, the year 1964 is to be remembered for all times to come as in this year the people of Jaintia Hills including old men and women, were one day dancing and singing in the streets with great joy and happiness as they were granted a separate autonomous district Council although devoid of Block-I & Block-II. The late Rev. JJM Nichols-Roy had done his very best to unite the two cousins and get the old districts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills renamed, temporarily though, as the United Khasi-Jaintia district in the Sixth Schedule in 1950. But he (Father of the 6TH Schedule) failed to protect Jaintia Hills from which a large chunk of area well-known as Blocks-I & II, were sliced away forcibly by the then Congress government of Assam.
Khasi Hills was then silent and quiet; anyway a separate district council came as a boon for the Jaintias as though their kingdom was revived as desired by Kiang Nangbah. The then Assam government might have told the cabinet minister Nichols-Roy that what it had done by transferring more than 500 sq. miles from the Jaintias’ homeland was according to the 6th Schedule (while ignoring the ratification by the Constituent Assembly), and it feels like Nichols-Roy was being beaten with his own stick.
Then came 1971 when the three district councils (Khasi, Garo, Jaintia) were working very hard and enthusiastically hand-in-hand to get a new Hill State without any suspicion that one would betray the other. A group of Jaintia youths expected that Blocks – I & II would then be re-transferred back to Jaintia Hills. Alas! the youth were mocked by the APHLC leaders who would not agree to wait till the issue would be solved; the reason being obvious – hunger for positions! The youths then shouted that Jaintia Hills should opt out of the new state. The APHLC interim government then decided to pound on their leader who was then teaching in the Dibrugarh University by sending a posse of policemen to arrest him. The police team could not accomplish their engagement as they were denied entry into the university campus; a compromise was however arrived at subsequently. It is hoped that one day this untold story would be unearthed by historical researchers. This writer was an eyewitness to all these historical events in Jaintia Hills.
The Jaintia youths again thought that there would be no more betrayal. But 2005 came and the State Language Act was passed by ignoring the Jaintia language. The then MLA of Jowai who was a cabinet minister, confided to this writer that the brute majority would not listen to him but he assured that he would wait and take some necessary action later; he could do nothing however till he passed away. It may be recalled that “The Jaintia Language & Literary Association” was formed in 1975 under the leadership of Prof. B.Pakem and others, with the aim and object of preserving and promoting the Jaintia language as desired by the Jaintias.
According to media report (e.g. ST, Jan.23/2024, front page) it appears the Jaintia MLAs had re-acted very late although the cabinet minister A.L.Hek had given a warning; they did decide to have a meeting on Tuesday the January 23, to pass a resolution. Surprisingly indeed, the cabinet minister Kyrmen Shylla was reported to have revealed in the same news item “that he was not a party to creating and approving the State Anthem”. If the seven MLAs of Jaintia Hills are sincere to their word we will soon see the amendment to the Meghalaya Language Act 2005.
It is amusing to read some of the articles in this connection, some of which make an attempt to write on the history of the Jaintias based mostly on conjectures and distortion. Some write that the name Jaintia was derived from Jayanti Devi the Jaintia queen behind whom a mythology was manufactured to resemble the story of u Woh Randi and Ka Li Dakha. Should we believe this mythology or the historical fact that the name Jaintia was derived from the name of the first State JAINTA formed by the Monkhmer or Austric-speaking race in Kopili (Kupli) valley where they settled after fleeing Kamrupa before 500 A.D.? We should know the reasons why they fled Kamrupa and the subsequent historical events that followed instead of dabbling in Jaintia history.
Heirtami Paswet in his letter (ST, Jan. 25, 2024) while referring to one of these articles, terms the arguments ‘senseless’, nay, simply bombastic! Paswet makes one gentle comment without elaborating: “If the term Khasi was actually used by our ancestors, we would not object but sadly there is no evidence that they did in the hundreds of oral traditions that they left for us.” I would say with all the information at my command, that the term Khasi was never found in history. Dr. Homiwell Lyngdoh (Nonglait) in his book KA NIAM KHASI (1937), in a 21-page ‘Jinglamphrang’, tries his best to link the Khasi people with ‘Khosa’, a tribe or race that settled in the Himalayan foothills from the present Uttarakhand to Nepal but ends up with no conclusion. The Khosas have subsequently turned up to be a branch of the Aryans according to W. Crooke’s ‘Races of Northern India’ (1973). Hamlet Bareh(1967) in his The History & Culture of the Khasi People & Namita C. Shadap-Sen(1981), in the very first lengthy footnote of her book ‘The Origin and Early History of Khasi-Synteng People’ also try hard to explain the derivation of the word ‘Khasi’ by borrowing some information from a British writer and both conclude with a fanciful meaning of the word.
Those who make an attempt to write the history of these people may rest assured that the term ‘Khasi’ has been derived from ‘Khasia’ as supported by eminent historians like David R. Syiemlieh. The Khasis became obvious only in the first part of he 19th century. When William Carey and his missionaries wanted to give a title to the Bible translated by them in Bengali script as The Khasia Bible, there was objection from the then few converts as the term Khasia was derogatory to them being unaware that the term Khasi is more derogatory in Sylheti and Assamese languages; its meaning in Perso-Arabic is far more derogatory. These meanings need not be given here for the sake of modesty. Hence the Bible was entitled ‘Khashee New Testament’ 1831 according to Bareh (1997). It must be remembered that the Jaintias who spilled over from Jaintia Hills into Shella and Cherrapunjee region were called Khasia by the Sylhetis. One great historian Sir Edward Gait, in his “History of Assam” has stated that there is no record or tradition suggesting that the Khasis and Syntengs owed allegiance to the same prince. A Jaintia scholar was fond of saying “we are same but not identical.”
The name ‘Jaintia’ given to the Monkhmer-speaking people is of 15 centuries old while ‘Khasi’ is hardly two centuries old, yet some dare to write “Khasi includes Pnar/Jaintia” which should have been the other way round. Again many people refuse to believe that the word ‘Pnar’ is a geographical term and not the name of the people, and deliberately equate it with the term ‘Jaintia’ to confuse the general readers. The sobriquet ‘Pnar’ cannot be equated with the real name ‘Jaintia’. This is another reason that leads to some controversy! By using the term ‘Pnar’ we neglect the War Jaintias and the Bhoi Jaintias like the Mynris and the Yunthong. One can also read Guilio Gosta, a renowned Anthropologist who lived with the Khasis for a long time and wrote a beautiful article on ‘The Origin of the People’ published in Ka Syngkhong Jingtip in three Parts(1958, ‘59 and ’60) and before he concludes the second Part he writes “On the other hand … what should we think of the people of Jaintia Hills, which was the parent of the present Khasis.” Gosta is historically right, but the Khasis would not accept it; they would rather stick to the two-century old name than change into the 1500 years old name of their parents!.
We would like to see someone write on the various stages of migration of the Jaintias to populate Khasi Hills – the greatest exodus being the one led by Sajar Nangli in the 16th century but the first one led by U Shyllong is believed to have taken place between the 11th & 12th centuries.
The above is but a brief account of the history of the Jaintias taken from a larger canvas. Their language deserves pride of place and must be preserved and promoted as strongly recommended by many linguists, “linguisticians”, anthropologists, historians, et.al. The Jaintia Hills has many prospective sportsmen and women whose love and passion for their own language must not be disrespected. We must shun any kind of imposition and homogeneity.


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