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Hundreds, if not thousands, of tribes and communities, and hundreds of
religions and sects in India are battling for identity every day.
While some are worried about influx of ‘outsiders’ into their domains
the others go on demanding reservations for their communities in
different sectors. The North-east is one of the most conflict-hit
regions where insurgent outfits are born every other day on the
pretext of fighting for the ‘rights’ of their own communities.
Besides, there are hundreds of so-called civil society groups and
student bodies raising the same voice, albeit in a different tone.
Of late rallying behind traditional chiefs of Meghalaya are all
nationalistic groups including political parties. The bone of
contention is an order from Meghalaya High Court denying ‘right’ of
traditional chiefs to issue no-objection certificates (NOC). The high
court ruling came in the wake of concerns over abuse of the unwritten
power by the traditional chiefs. The court had said let the chiefs
carry out their social responsibilities and the power of issuing NOC
be rested with the proper authorities. The court even remanded one
such chief in judicial custody recently for contempt of court by
issuing NOC disregarding the high court order. That the Dorbar Shnong,
which is recognised by the autonomous district council formed under
the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, has been  enjoying unwritten
powers so far was revealed only after the High Court order that asked
the traditional chiefs not to issue any certificate such as NOC. It
was only after this order by Justice SR Sen that Dorbars realised the
need for a legal authority for them to function.
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. Everybody, including the Dorbar Shnongs, takes ‘pride’
in the state’s unique system. It is high time the traditional chiefs’
role be defined as per people’s need, not theirs.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 1, 2015)