Tribal indigenous groups are way too far from democratic way of functioning. Barring a few, there is rampant autocracy and nepotism among such groups. Though there is no serious visible conflict due to the absence of democracy in these set-ups time is not far when such conflicts will come to the fore. Ostracism and witch-hunting is already rampant in the tribal society. The problem is so deep that one Birubala Rabha, herself a tribal, has been waging a war for decades against witch-hunting in Assam. Neighbouring hill states are not free from the menace, although there is no strong movement against the social evil.
Roots of ostracism and witch-hunting are traced to illiteracy, deep superstition and people’s unwillingness to hold on to their ‘roots’. While it is essential not to forget one’s culture, the same cannot remain same forever. Sticking to the ‘roots’ sometimes may cost dearly. Such concept of tradition has prompted one Hima (traditional body) in East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya to frame a Bill to allow only two clans – Malai and Sohmat – to contest in the election to the post of Syiem (chief of Hima) of Hima Malaisohmat. Of course, the name of the Hima itself suggests that it is a region dominated by people of the two clans. But there should be a limit to reservations. India is already facing a great debate whether caste-based reservation has served any purpose for the country in the six decades of Independence.
The order from the Hima is an indication that people of Meghalaya are far from being ready to adopt the panchayati raj system. It is because of the wrong perception about ‘roots’ that panchayati raj could not yet penetrate the state. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura have already adopted the system. While have accepted many changes in our day-to-day life – from going to quacks to doctor, using telephone to mobile phone, wearing leaves to clothes, eating raw meat to various delecacies – what is the problem in adjusting with the so-called roots? What great loss will the people living in Hima Malaisohmat, no more inhabited by just two clans, suffer if anyone from outside the two clans becomes the Syiem. Ultimately, we have to understand that such set-ups, which are now benefited by government schemes, are for the people. So, they should be by the people and of the people too.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 8, 2016)