No identity or ethnicity exists without history. No history remains cast in stone. Wanphrang Diengdoh, musician and filmmaker from Shillong asks 5 questions about Khasi identity and if you feel like responding to Wanphrang Diengdoh’s questions, feel free to comment or send us your response at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Sohra dialect which is now the lingua franca of the state owes its genesis to the Welsh missionary Thomas Jones. For the Khasi nationalist (not of the Seng Khasi kind) this position is acceptable. Why? Perhaps because we are happy to recognise that we owe our identity to a European, a doh-lieh and therefore have no problem internalising Welsh anthems as our own? What would the implications be today if the Bengali, Krishna Chandra Pal in 1813 managed to evangelise more Khasis than the Welsh did eventually? Would we have embraced some other script as ours? Would the fate of the dkhars have been different in 1979, 1987 and the other years that had outbursts of communal violence?
- For the followers of the so-called niam Khasi or Khasi traditional faith, the claim that the niam Khasi had no flirtations with other religious ideologies makes me thoroughly uncomfortable. To make matters a little bit more complex, Nilmani Chakravarty, in Atmajibansmriti, (Calcutta, Bangabda 1827) records, “Among the early Khasi gentlemen who were attracted towards the Brahmo faith, mention be made of Job Solomon and Radhan Singh…This Mawkhar Brahmo Samaj Mandir was the first community prayer hall established at the initiative of the local Khasi Brahmo converts of the Hills…Here they met every Saturday for Brahmo prayers…Radhan Singh jointly translated some Brahmo prayers into Khasi language”. Also, the son of the duibhashya, Jeebon Roy Mairom, Sib Charan Roy Dkhar translated the Bhagavad Gita along with other books on Khasi religion including “Kot Tohkit Tirtir shaphang ka niam tip Blei ki Khasi”, “Ka Niam Khasi –Ka Niam tip-blei tip briew” and “Ka Jingiakren iapule shaphang ka niam”. Most of these books are still published today thanks to the first printing press of Meghalaya, the Ri Khasi Press in 1896. This was established by Jeebon Roy who was also one of the founding members of the Seng Khasi organisation and also worked as the Extra Assistant Commisioner. He eventually resigned and got involved in the lucrative limestone mining. Radhon Singh Kharsuka’s, ‘Ka Niam Khasi’ is also still widely circulated.
- Should the Seng Khasi in 1899 have originated from a position that aimed to secure the economic development of the Khasis and not just to institutionalise their dance and rituals and claim custodian position, then this movement, which is perhaps the greatest cultural movement the Khasis have ever had, would have also taken a stronger stance against the devastation of our resources and environment by outside forces – namely large corporations and the state that justifies its actions in the name of development. But perhaps this position was not possible because some of the pioneers of the Seng Khasi were also well-to-do government officials. Today, I wonder which custodian of Khasi political, cultural and religious identity would take a stance against uranium mining, deforestation or the decline of traditional laws; the crony feudal and capitalistic model that now enslaves our Khasi brethren. Or even more culturally radical, develop a ‘new’ script for the Khasi language. Instead, what we see are religious practices slipping more into the realm of a spectacle masquerading as authenticity; an authentic spiritual purity which is made even more complex by the formation of the State of Meghalaya.
- Neither religion nor language can be used to assert a sense of purity. Are you more Khasi than your Khasi Christian or Khasi Muslim neighbour? Are you more Khasi because you speak the Sohra dialect? Are you more Khasi because you choose the jainsem over jeans (Even though the jainsem origin can also be contested)? By the same logic, my Khasi Muslim friends could also apply for a minority within a minority status as well.
- The question now is, if one claims to be a ‘pure Khasi’ (with traditional systems of administration, governance and rule of land in place) is there room for this ‘pure Khasi’ in the nation state? I do not claim to come from or to be aiming for a point of nothingness where we are all the same – a post modernist comfortable sofa – but rather to want us to question ourselves and accept the fact that we are different yet have areas of commonality that we should further investigate, as opposed to dangerously parading them as political and or religious differences that fuel animosity. The time is well overdue for us to shake up a few feudal coops, so that the problems of our everyday existence will not be simply palmed off to the refugee from across the border.