The Khasis, Pnars, Achiks as well as other tribes from the region are indigenous people with a distinct culture et al. Special arrangement were made to recognize their uniqueness such as the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The ‘indigeneity’ of the Khasis for instance transcend all other distinctions such as religion. Whether one is a Khasi Christian or non-Christian he/she is expected to possess the ‘indigeneity’ that define his/her existence as part of that culture. Language is one such distinction. But Khasi as a spoken language is dying. If it vanishes then Khasi as an indigenous group dies out.
The Khasis have been living in close proximity with other communities comprising the Hindus, the Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist etc. Before colonialism made its way to these hills, rudimentary socio -religious contacts were established in the Garo and the Jaintia hills to Islam and Hinduism the remnants of which are evident to this day. Centuries later Christianity was introduced by the British missionaries which quickly spread among the local population. Despite Christianity becoming a popular religion the British have long recognized the uniqueness and ‘indigeneity’ of these tribal communities. There were certainly no discrimination between the Khasi Christians and non-Christians in say missionary-run schools nor did the British attempt to change the Khasi culture, practices etc. The Inner Line Permit apart from serving British interests was a mechanism devised to insulate these tribes from foreign influences and maintain their uniqueness.
India has always been a pluralistic society where different religious communities, cultures, language etc tolerate and respect each other. The British created differences and introduced the concept of minority as a policy to ‘divide and rule’. Post-independence the nomenclature persisted and its legacy perpetuated with the framing of the Indian Constitution. Minorities are entitled to various benefits and exemptions provided by the Constitution. These assuaged the minorities who were skeptical about a new independent India, without the British. So all non-Hindus are considered as minorities and eligible for certain benefits. By this logic the Christians of Meghalaya and the indigenous practice (Niam Khasi/Tre) are minorities since they are not Hindus. While the Christian population would continue to remain a minority group, the niam tre/khasi must continue to maintain the status quo in order to remain a minority group. If one or the other were to assume a distinct entity it violates the definition of a minority and they stand to lose the tag.
The High Court of Meghalaya has asked the Central government to recognize Niam khasi/tre as minority groups. Until the time of the notification they will continue to remain a minority assigned to the Khasi Christians. The Meghalaya government has explained to the court that no discrimination exists in its treatment to the two groups such as scholarships allocations. Yet this is precisely the case that the Seng Khasi/Sein Raij are making in the court. Private establishments such as schools/colleges are outside the jurisdiction of the government where discrimination, even among the Christians themselves, abounds. Therefore if this is the case, the Seng Khasi/Sein Raij makes before the court, then the Presbyterians/Catholics etc stand to qualify as minorities as well based on such discrimination.
Being alienated and discriminated is the raison d’tre which emboldens the Seng Khasi/Sein Raij to raise its pitch in favor of the minority tag? But is this the only reason? The answer is not hard to seek. Meghalaya is known by many unofficial names; one being that it is a ‘Christian state’. It is a label propagated by church leaders and political and social actors and it is done in the most rhetorical manner. The label is unconstitutional and its usage should be banned. However, the adherents of Christianity have justified and validated Christianity to secularism. So while professing their faith in secularism they are happy demonizing and disrespecting the indigenous faith. This has created a sense of alienation.
The other is the fact that the Seng Khasi which was founded in 1899 is recognized at least by its adherents, as the sole custodian of Khasi spiritual and cultural values/legacy. The Seng Khasi inspired the formation of like minded organizations such as the Sein Raij, Seng Khihlang and others to pursue the same for the Pnars etc. The founding members of Seng Khasi who were themselves educated in missionary or English medium schools perceived Christianity as a threat to the Khasi way of life. They did all they could to ensure that their beloved culture remained untouched and unchanged through the creation of the Seng Khasi. Still it is important for the current leaders of the Seng Khasi to specify its stand on how being ‘minority’ could save the Khasi culture and way of life because this culture includes the Khasi Christians.
For a long time, the Seng Khasi functioned independently disassociating themselves from other religious groups, either within the state or outside it. However, it appears many members of the Seng Khasi/Sein Raij have found an ally in the RSS. There were rumours that the RSS have made a dent and established support in these hills. But the “Path Sanchalan” march organized by the RSS shows a relationship closer than anyone had thought of. It was a march to show its strength under the guise of celebrating leader, Subhash Chandra Bose. What purpose Subhash Chandra Bose served the Seng Khasi remains a mystery. For the RSS, Subhash Chandra Bose is a figure who awaits ‘saffronizing’. They have already started with Sardar Patel. But one must also remember that the RSS has been making efforts to bring under its fold all forms of indigenous practices in the country. It has started various missionary works for the same.
The founding members of the Seng Khasi never pursued the minority case. Is there a need to be minority to protect one’s culture? If that was the case, the Seng Khasi could have made the demand during the Hill State Movement of the 70s. Something seems to have happened in the last few years which provoked the Seng Khasi/Sein Raij to be vocal about discrimination where none existed, at least on paper. So before anyone can give their judgment on the “minority within a minority” issue, it’s worth tracing its genesis to understand what caused the Seng Khasi to flex and play the minority card to protect and preserve tradition.