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Mylliem Seng Khasi Issue

The highly controversial incident that took place in Meghalaya on August 11th 2017, at a place called Mylliem near Shillong, when the local Dorbar Shnong (Village/Local Council), obstructed the cremation of a deceased belonging to the (Niam Khasi) ,the indigenous religion of the Sons of the Soil of Meghalaya. Some members of the Christian community organised themselves and mobilised local Christian schools students illegally and took out protests and stopped the cremation at the stipulated traditional spot of the Naim Khasi people. This reflects the highly proselytize mindset of the Christians and the lack of respect to the ancient traditions and customs which is the basis, the very identity and the foundation of the Khasi Tribe. Obstructing a body for cremation attracts legal action which was demanded in the incident and the law of the Nation has necessary provision to safeguard the rights of the deasesed.  The Madras high court stated in Sethu Raja case (2007) holding the right to a decent burial or cremation as a part of a right to dignity fell back on “our tradition and culture” which accorded same, if not more, dignity to a dead as to a live person.

Provisions under the Indian penal code clearly prohibits irreverence to dead bodies section 297, describes an “ Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any plave of sepulture, or any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead,or offers any indignity to any human corpse,or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year,or with fine,or with both.” This section deals more specifically with trespasses on 


places of sculptures and places set apart for the performance of funeral rights and depositories for the remains of the dead. The essence of the section is an intention of knowledge of likelihood to wound feelings on himself religion and whom with that intention or knowledge, trespass on places of sculpture indignity to a corpse or disturbance to persons assembled for funeral ceremony as common that the offence is completed. A person who has the duty of properly burying a dead body also has right, including the right to the possession of the body for burial the right to maintain the burial place and protect the body therein and right to intiate legal proceedings for disturbances to such burial place.

The state of Meghalaya is synonym with the name of Legendary Freedom Fighter U. Triot Singh who was a King (Syiem) or an administrative head. He fought against the British and became a legend in the struggle for independence. He too followed the Niam Khasi religion and ironically the people for whom he fought have now forgotten the roots and instead glorifying the colonial religion and persecuting the indigenous faithful. 

 When the Constitution of India was being framed, members of the Constituent Assembly strongly argued in favor of including specific provisions for the tribal people of North East India. Constituent Assembly debates were primarily guided by three considerations first  the necessity to maintain the distinct customs, socio-economic and political culture of the tribal people of the region, to ensure autonomy of the tribal people, and preserve their identities secondly the necessity to prevent their economic, social and political exploitation by the more advanced neighboring people of the plains and lastly to allow the tribal people to develop and administer themselves according to their own genius. 

  In Khasi Hills the traditional governance structure consists of the Syiemship at the top and the Dorbar Shnong/Dorbad Raid at the grassroots, the Dorbar Shnong or village council headed by Rangbah Shnong (village headman) who is elected by adult male residents of the village and heads the village administration. Every adult male member of each household in the village is a member of the village council and is required to actively participate in the deliberations of the council and facilitate in decision making.

The Dorbar Shnong (Village/Local Council) is not a constitutional institution under the District Council which is formed under the 6th schedule of the Constitution of India and the whole of Meghalaya is also a 6th Schedule State. Under the Schedule, the councils are empowered to appoint and remove Syiems and headmen of the traditional institutions in the state. The Rangbah Dong(Village Local Headman) functions more as an unpaid government servant than as a tribal Headman. The normal governmental activities at local level, like allotment of public distribution outlets, assignment of contracts under developmental schemes, municipal duties like looking after parking rules in lanes and sanitation, are carried out by him. Government departments looking after such functions have fully paid officials for the work, but they merely pass it on to the Dong Headman. This raises a major issue about accountability of both the modern and the traditional authorities. The concept of dorbar, that is, the council, is an important part of a Khasi’s collective life. The dorbar is closely associated with a Khasi from his hearth to his clan, to his village, commune and even to his state. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, though empowered by the Sixth Schedule, has not passed a law to regulate and streamline village and town administration. The Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Village Administration) Bill, 2011 prepared by the KHADC if passed will codify the existing customs and practices followed in this traditional political institution while simultaneously engaging it to assume new responsibilities in a modern environment..The Dorbars are now more of a Vigilante body rather than a socio cultural body. The History of the Dorbar is difficult to trace and the Dorbar seems to have been organized during the First World War when it became necessary to distribute rations to the people and to form self-defence groups. They are fast losing their traditional, non formal tribal character and are acquiring an authority of unprecedented formal nature through de facto jurisdiction. It is claimed that the Dorbars are traditional bodies but there are innumerable instances that show that these Dorbars are now acting as an arm of the Government and they are becoming formalized. Under the criminal procedure code that governs criminal offences in India, the Dorbar does not have any authority to pass orders, but practices  de facto authority. 

   The people practicing Niam Khasi are the Ethno religious minority of Meghalaya and as per the United Nations resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 107th plenary meeting, 13 September 2007, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Article 12 and 25 clearly states.

Article 12

1) Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.

2) States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 25

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

   The Commission on Human rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Fifty-seventh session in its Working Group on Minorities Eleventh session 30 May-3 June 2005,  under the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, in a note from the Secretary General states ‘The Working Group on Minorities, at its tenth session, adopted the commentary on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, originally drawn up by its former Chairperson, Mr. Asbjørn Eide, and contained in document E/CN.4/AC.5/2001/2, as a commentary of the Working Group as a whole.’ And further states in ARTICLE 1

1.1 States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.

The Mylliem incident of Shillong may be a result of misunderstanding and may have been sorted out but this is the state of affairs in Meghalaya and the growing disrespect and intolerance of the Christians towards the indigenous faith. As Gandhiji had said intolerance is another form of violence the Christians here has shown that violence is a state of mind in their society. The question is which is older ‘Niam Khasi’ or ‘Dorbar’. Niam Khasi Existed for thousands of years and the durbars were made by the British. Is British Legacy Greater than tradition?. The moment the Durbar interferes in the traditional rights of the Indigenous religious affairs like the recent incident it tends to loses its traditional status. Religion is far greater and bigger that an unconstitutional body. The only way to prevent such kind of further incidents is to notify the Niam Khasi as Minority in Meghalaya and Assam and create awareness and most importantly allot Cremation grounds in each Pocket when Niam Khasi is practiced.

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Mylliem Seng khasi Cremation photos

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