Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sein Beh Iaw Jowai: Meghalaya’s own Dabba Wallahs

If the Dabba Wallahs of Mumbai can make it to the pages of the Forbes Magazine, the Economics Times et al, the Sein Beh Iaw Co-operative Society of Jowai deserves at least some space in the editorial page of the Shillong Times. There are two things that these two business organization have in common, that their business model is original in its own right and the unique business ventures are not a copy-paste models of some successful business enterprises or models copied from certain management books. Secondly both the organisations are laymen’s movement in which most of the members are semi literate and the day to day affair of the organization is being run by the members themselves.
Co-operative organization come and go and with one of the two outstanding co-operative societies in Jaintia Hills, the Mowkaiaw Transport Society is now a mere a shadow of its former glory, Sein Beh Iaw which was established on June 23, 1980 is now a 30 years old organization and it is still going strong and doing a good business. Perhaps the success story of Sein Beh Iaw, Jowai is one case study that our own IIM, Shillong can take up for study.
Incidentally while composing this article, my wife shouted from the kitchen asking me when is ‘Musiang’ (the market day in Jowai), the fact is even though Jowai is a growing town and everything is available in the market throughout the week, the significance of Musiang has not diminished. Musiang is the day the town folks look forward to fresh (and many a time organically grown) food products that petty farmers from every nook and corner of the district come to sell in the local market. I was told that an IAS officer from the town posted in Shillong was once asked why he didn’t opt to serve as the Deputy Commissioner of Jaintia hills. The officer who was born and brought up in Jowai replied ‘why would I want to work in a town in which I already know what food each family cooks every morning and evening of the market day? Jokes apart, to understand the principle on which the foundation of the Sein Beh Iaw is set, one needs to understand some of the traditions of the Pnars which has some connection with this business. The business is based on the eight days a week traditional calendar of the Khasi Pnar, yes we have eight days in a week and don’t ask me where did the Khasi Pnar get the extra day in their week? If the Beatles had known about the Khasi Pnar tradition, it would have safe the group the trouble of composing a hit song wishing for a week of eight days. Unlike the western calendar; each day is named after the market in the particular village; hence each major village has one market day in a week which also caters to the need of the villages in its vicinity.
Ma Ronel Chullai reminiscence in the silver jubilee souvenir of the Sein Beh Iaw, the day he first joined the elders in the ‘Beh iaw’ tradition which literarily mean ‘following the market;’ way back in 1948.  He recalled starting from Shangpung which falls on ‘Muchai,’ the day after ‘Musiang.’ During those days there were no means of conveyance so they walked on foot the entire week with bundles of goods on their back from one village to another. They stayed overnight at Shangpung and continued the next day to the market at Mynso, they again stayed overnight at Mynso then crossed the river Myntang to reach Barato market. On the same evening they left Barato and crossed the river Mynriang stayed overnight at Lapangap to walk to Ummynso the next day. They returned the same route from Lapangap, to Mynso and it took them two days to reach Jowai again. After walking from one market to another braving the inclement weather and the danger of wild animals, by 1950-54 traders used cycles to commute from one market to another, later on they used Jeeps and by 1956-60 they started using small buses and followed next by the big buses.
As per the traditional calendar except Jowai two or more villages share the same market day. The second day of the week is Muchai and it is the market day at Shangpung and Dawki, Pyngkat the third day is the market day in Khliehriat, Iooksi, Mynso and Chiehruphi, the next day is Thymblein; on this particular day  market is held at Muktapur, Barato and Khanduli, the next day is Hat and  it is a market day at Borkhat and Mookaiaw, followed by Khyllaw the market day in Jowai, Dawki, Sutnga, Kympreng and Namdong, the sixth day of the week is Pynsyin where market is held at Wah-iajer and Rymbai. Mulong is the market day at Nartiang, Jarain Lumchnong, Muktapur and Raliang followed by Musiang the market day in Jowai and the last day of the week.
Sein Beh Iaw co-operative society was organized to help those following the markets and the organization was in a way forcibly thrust upon them by circumstances prevailed then. Initially traders depend on private buses for transportation but the lackadaisical attitude of the private bus owners, forced some of the ‘beh-iaw- wallahs’ to think of an alternative. They decided to join together buy their own bus and not to depend on the whims and fancy of the bus owners. Initially all 121 members of the ‘beh-iaw family’(as they would like to call themselves) contributed as much as they can to purchase the society’s first bus and since they cannot afford a brand new vehicle; they bought a used bus from Shillong. Irrespective to the amount a member contributed to the corpus fund; members were allotted an equal share and it was repaid immediately after the coop break even. The Society’s second bus was financed by the State Bank of India, Jowai and now the Society has 5 buses and another new one will join the fleet soon. The Coop has 15 employees which include bus drivers and helpers and 15 members working on a voluntary basis to run the day to day affairs of the society. The account of the organization is being audited every month and the auditors provide a quarterly audited report to the management and the members meet at annual general meeting on the society’s foundation day.
The market day in the village is not only an opportunity for the villagers and those nearby to sell their local products, but traders even from distance places came to sell their goods once a week to create villagers’ own supermarket where the weekly need of the villagers is provided; likewise traders bought the villagers products to sell them elsewhere. Sein Behiaw is one big entity which contributes to the flourishing traditional weekly market system and perhaps it is not an overstatement to say that the Sein Beh Iaw, Jowai is single handedly responsible for the growth of these village markets. Numbers of unemployed youths in the state is growing at an alarming rate, and the government is yet to come up with any employment policy, helping the village market grow is perhaps one alternative to create employment and at the same time arrest the ever increasing urban migration. The tradition of having market is already in place, it remains for the government to create value in the market by providing modern facilities like cold storage and even transport with cold storage facility, RCC stalls etc, this will surely help create employment opportunity. The corporate houses created modern market for people to come and shop in their malls and super mart; the genius of the Khasi Pnar is they take people’s own super market to the villages.
People often conclude that Pnars are enterprising lot, but the real entrepreneurs are not those coal and limestone mine owners who just happens to own lands with mineral deposits, real entrepreneurs are people like the members of the Sein Beh Iaw who 30 years ago out of nothing created their own business and struggled hard to prosper.
In comparison state run Transport Corporation failed in spite of financial support from the state, one can’t help but wonder what does the Sein Beh Iaw, Jowai has that the Meghalaya Transport Corporation does not have. Perhaps the government of Meghalaya has a lot to learn from the Sein Beh Iaw. The Sein Beh Iaw not only created a viable transport alternative for its members, it has created employment for many drivers and helpers in the buses and occasionally it is also an opportunity to earn extra income for the members. It is also a mean of communication for hundreds of traders depending on its buses to travel from one market to another.

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