In May this year, I attended a panel discussion on the Village Administration bill, held in Dinam hall, Jaiaw. There were representatives from State, members of the Thma u Rangli Juki and a representative from the North East Network. It gave me hope, amidst the clamour of sexism, Islamophobia and racism to see a group of people whose principles were that of equality, even though they were a minority in the hall. It is hard for me to articulate the tension between the need to assert and protect ourselves as a minority and the need to demystify and humanise our traditions, which so many of us talk about as if they were faultless and god-given. The reason we need to speak up now is because we are at a critical juncture;both in relation to the Indian stateand finding out who we are as a society. The codification of our traditional systems of governance is a process and act that will not only give the Indian state more power but that will also test us. Going about it without introspection can have consequences that will only embolden injustice, that will only solidify inequality. Introspection is always a difficult process, for it compels a dismantling of the idea of who we are. Introspection is an acceptance of imperfection, which is often very hard to digest. For us as a society, it can also lead to a crisis of identity, especially in the face of religious and cultural imperialism from a Right wing government steeped in Hindutva.
KA JINGIATHIR HALOR KA VILLAGE ADMINISTRATION BILL HA DINAM HALL JAIAW
When we write about our traditions, the pages of our books are suffused with self praise. While there might be a need to keep the idea of us being special, particularly as a small group, it is also detrimental because many of us talk of ourselves and our systems in comparison to other groups in the country, instead of ideals of equality. We have become complacent with our feudal and patriarchal traditions, we think they are great, we hold them to be beyond critique,we do not see any need for change. In some conversations about how we Khasis stand in comparison to other communities , I was told that we treat women much better than the rest of India. Even if that was true, should we stop there and remain patriarchal the way we actually are? Matrilineality does not mean equality. Dangerously, it has become a way to escape discussions about issues of equality between genders. If we were as equal as we claim to be, women wouldn’t have to fight so much to make their voices heard in the first place. We wouldn’t have the amount of slut shaming and victim blaming that we do, we wouldn’t have transgender members being harassed and physically abused by self appointed cultural vigilante groups.
Our traditional systems are not democratic. A semblance of equality is possible only if a syiem is a benevolent patriarch, but this depends on sheer luck. Equality does not come from benevolence, or luck, and we cannot keep banging on these doors to get our bread and butter or a place to stay. We need a system that will protect us from a few rich business men and politicians who draw lines in a jakaraid and claim it for themselves and then hoard their stolen riches under the banner of Tradition. We need protection from our own greed, that destroys the land, forces children into the poisonous air of rathole mines. Children, whether immigrant or ours, should never suffer and die, just so a few can prosper. Our traditional systems of governance are good, and have guided our course till now but they are not flawless. And they are being abused by people who care nothing for the common good. In the clash between the state and these traditional systems, it is up to us to ensure that we our demands include ways of protecting the common people. Our struggle should not be a celebration of an unequal system, how traditional it may be.
The common people of the state is not just the urban educated lot, but also the lower classes, women and immigrants. In the name of tradition, we cannot abuse non-Khasis, vilify Muslims because of their religion. Muslims are not inherently violent, and neither are Garos thick headed. There is no biological reason for anybody’s behaviour and we are racist when we speak of people in those terms.
A tradition that is non-democratic and patriarchal is not one to boast about, even if some aspects of it are better than traditions of other communities in India. Our people’s destiny shall turn on the decisions we take now. We have a responsibility towards ourselves to make the traditional constitutions just and equal. To do so, we need introspection. To do so we need to accept that the“Khasi tradition” is not without flaws and prejudices.