The Garos are a privileged lot among the three main indigenous communities of Meghalaya. They enjoy 40 per cent of the total 80 per cent jobs reserved for the dominant indigenous communities. In Khasi-Jaintia Hills, this reservation pattern is seen as discriminatory due to the fact that the population of Garos is far less than the population of Khasis and Jaintias, the two tribes with a lot of similarities in language and culture. The Khasi-Jaintias have 40 per cent reservation. There have been demands to review the reservation pattern as per the population ratio of the various indigenous tribes, but no government has dared to touch this sensitive issue.
The Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), mainly interested in the affairs of Khasi-Jaintia Hills as its name suggests, raised the issue of discrimination in reservation in government jobs. The issue has been dormant for nearly 16 years, for understandable reasons. While being in advantageous position, the Garos will never demand a change in the policy, a demand by Khasi-Jaintias will look racial. In the over four-decade-long history of Meghalaya’s statehood, there has been no communal clash between the Khasi-Jaintias and Garos, but there is no significant improvement in mutual harmony as well.
Apart from the matrilineal lineage, the two (Khasi-Jaintia and Garo) distinctly different tribes do not share anything in common. Understandably, there is no regional party of the state as a whole. While KHNAM, United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) represent the sentiment of Khasi-Jaintia people, the Garo National Council (GNC) and National People’s Party (NPP) have strong base in Garo Hills only. The UDP, in a bid to shed its image of Khasi-Jaintia party, contested a number of seats in the recently-held Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) election. Not surprisingly, the party drew a blank. The HSPDP, which runs in the same vein as that of KHNAM, and known for its demand for a separate Khasi-Jaintia state is likely to welcome the KHNAM demand. The GNC will oppose it tooth and nail. But it will be difficult for UDP and NPP to make their stand clear on the KHNAM demand, since both the parties try to maintain a region-neutral image. The KHNAM’s demand is justified if only the population ratio of the state is taken into consideration. But it fails the logic when the backwardness of Garos, compared to Khasi-Jaintias, is concerned. The party’s call to the Garos to ‘face competition’ also applies to the whole reservation system irrespective of states and communities. In fact, one KHNAM leader echoes the rising country-wide demand for a reservation system based on economic status.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on December 4, 2015)