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We all know that we are citizens of India. But, many of us do not know what does it mean? We are all bound by the Constitution, which most of us have not read. We cannot violate the Constitution. By abiding by it, we get the benefit of citizenship. Citizens are secured by the government from enemy attacks and entitled to jobs and various schemes. The give-and-take equation – abiding by Constitution and getting the rights – is not understood by all. This phenomenon is palpable in remote tribal regions of the country. Some traditional tribal chiefs like those in Meghalaya are yet to realise the fact that there is something called law which they cannot take into their hand. There is a tendency among a section of them to frame their own laws, which leads to many a conflict.

Two back-to-back incidents of assertion of supremacy by traditional chiefs in Khasi-Jaintia Hills region have once again revealed the imbalance of federal rights and so-called customary rights in the state. In one incident, a mentally deranged man was confined, ‘with the consent of the family’, for one month. The traditional chief did not think it proper to either advise the family or take some step to send the person to a mental asylum. Two days later, another incident of a family being denied to bury their teenage daughter came to light. It seems, the family failed to inform the village chief about the death ‘on time’. So he took offence and sent a note asking the family not to bury her in the jurisdiction of the village. He also had the audacity to send a copy of the ‘order’ to the local police, who gracefully ‘received’ it. Once, a village chief punished one ‘offender’ by forcing him to eat dog excreta. There are numerous incidents of arbitrarily ostracising families for flimsy reasons, depriving them of PDS ration, MGNREGS jobs etc.

In most of the cases, these village chiefs are found to be less educated and have little awareness about law. They still have the preoccupied notion that they would have the same powers their ancestors had from ‘time immemorial’. They would accept all changes brought by modernity, but not any bit of their ‘powers’. In a country where the Prime Minister promotes the slogan of ‘Pradhan Sevak’ (servant), it’s high time the tribal chiefs understood that they are bound by the law mandated in the Constitution, and not of anything else.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 12, 2015)

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