common vice, customs, democracy, Dorbar Shnong, headman, infamous, irony, justice SR Sen, khap panchayat, Khasi Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya, Meghalaya High Court, NOC, ostracise, traditional bodies, unwritten laws, women rights
Relevance of traditional customs and traditional bodies is often questioned in case of a controversy. Such incidents are normally reported in villages where the traditional bodies hold strong. If Khap Panchayat of Haryana is notorious for defining dress codes for girls, the Dorbar Shnong of Meghalaya is infamous for ostracising families. They want rule of ‘traditional laws’ in their jurisdictions. Dorbar Shnong is a body recognised by the autonomous district council, which was formed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Unlike Khap Panchayat, Dorbar Shnong is an authorised institution recognised by the government, albeit under no law so far. This fact was revealed only recently when the Meghalaya High Court ruled that the traditional chiefs should not issue any certificate such as NOC. They were asked to perform their ‘social responsibilities’ only. It was only after this order by Justice SR Sen that Dorbars realised the need for a legal authority for them to function.
Both the Khap Panchayat and the Dorbar Shnong are resistant to changes in the society. The world is evolving every day. Way of life had changed in the past, it is changing now and it will, for ever. None can prevent it. There is a greater demand for democracy in every aspect of life. The traditional bodies might be having their inner democracy intact, a reason for their existence till date, but they are seen as autocratic by others. A recent memorandum sought 54 separate proposals for a village administration Bill. There is equal number of Himas (traditional administrative area) in Khasi-Jaintia Hills region of less than 10 lakh population. They want the separate Bill drafts since the traditional laws vary from Hima to Hima! But the ‘laws’ are mostly unwritten. They want the power, not accountability! As per the so-far-unwritten laws, a headman’s certificate is needed in many official works. But if he refuses to issue it, there is no legal system to take action against him.
The Khap Panchayat and Dorbar Shnong have another common vice. While Khap denying women rights is seen as nothing abnormal in a highly male-dominated society, the Dorbar Shnong’s attitude towards women is totally contradictory with the state’s matrilineal system. Everybody, including the Dorbar Shnongs, takes ‘pride’ in the state’s unique system. Yet, woman has no space in the Dorbar Shnong. Such an irony!
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 6, 2015)