Friday, July 29, 2011

Las Vegas of the East

By HH Mohrmen

Some are fond of calling Shillong the Scotland of the East; fancy though it may sound, I personally think it would have been appropriate if Shillong is compared with Edinburgh or Glasgow the two major cities of Scotland, but that is not the point, this write up is about another region in the state of Meghalaya which has something in common with the city of Las Vegas in the state of Nevada, USA.

It was an air transit on my way to Salt Lake City in 2009 that I had a brief experience of the famed gambling city. Friends had warned me not to try my hand at the gambling machines (not that I have much dollars to spare) available in plenty even inside the airport. While waiting for my connecting flight I remember a passenger completely engrossed in gambling had to be literarily dragged from his seat by the airline ground staff. He was so obsessed with the slot machine and was oblivious of the final announcement of his flight’s departure. Las Vegas is also called sin city because gambling is legal and slot machines are available even at the airport.

I must admit I owe the idea of comparing coal mine areas of Jaintia hills with Las Vegas to a young filmmaker friend from Shillong who in the span of two years toured almost the entire coal mining areas of the District. It all happened in Soo Kilo a makeshift market situated between Lad Sutnga and Sutnga village and the idea of comparing the area with Las Vegas occurred in one of our several visits to the area. The project was to secretly film the activities inside Soo Kilo market, but before we began I first took the crew for a walk inside the market to get a first hand experience of what goes on in the makeshift bazaar owned by a coal baron. After we have done the rounds we met at a secluded location and I could see the shock in the faces of the entire film crew and particularly my young friend GS or GNS. He was at a loss for words for sometime and finally uttered “My God Bah Mohrmen this is like Las Vegas.”

Few months ago a journalist from Delhi along with a photo journalist friend from Nagaland came to seek my assistance to follow their scoop on coal mining in Jaintia Hills. Rajni George went back to Delhi and composed a very good story in which she described the life of some big time coal mine owners of Jaintia hills. Rajni (with whom I also shared the Las Vegas-Soo Kilo story) reported in the story which was carried by the Caravan Magazine wherein she mentioned her visit to Soo Kilo and called it the Las Vegas of Jaintia hills. Like many makeshift markets dotted in the coal mine areas; Soo Kilo is a hub of the area, everything that miners needs is available in the market and all forms of gambling happen here. These markets have their own rules and the owner of the market is the over-all authority in the market. He is the modern day Raja of the area. Coal mine areas of Jaintia hills District are the only places in Meghalaya where dice and card gambling goes on openly. Earlier if one would travel to Ladrymbai, one would see dice gambling on the road side, right under the nose of the police. This open gambling is still going on openly in many such makeshift markets in the coal mine areas, but the new kind of gambling which is getting more popular is the Bull-fight. If one travels from Jowai to Sutnga or Jowai to Khliehriat every evening one would see hundreds of swanky cars of every hue and colour parked in certain areas. Earlier, my impression was that somebody important had died and the cars must belonged to people, who visit the bereaved family, but I was wrong.

Bull fighting was once the most popular traditional game of the Pnars. It is a game to while away their leisure time, and, money was never part of the game. For sometime this primitive way of spending our leisure time was about to become redundant but the District has witnessed the resurgence of bull fighting with a bang and with big money at stake. The bull fighting show is discreetly organized and the secrecy of the venue is a well guarded secret and only the gamblers and the operators know of it. Now bullfighting has merely become an opportunity for gambling for those who have a lot of dough to spare. It is an opportunity for many types of gambling. Gamblers bet on the fighting bulls and they also gamble on the game of dice that is available in the play ground. It is said that on a typical bullfighting session which may be of two hours duration, a minimum of 20 lakh rupees is at stake. Bullfighting is so popular that a good bulls cost anything from 50, 000 rupees to several lakhs of rupees. Hence breeding fighting bulls is a lucrative business now. The bulls are well fed and even taken for a walk (or jog if you like) regularly; their horns are custom-made for fighting, and organisers pay bull owners big money only to enter the bull into competition.

The open gambling is not only illegal but it is also an act of cruelty to animals which is against the law, but the District Administration seems to turn a blind eye to the illegal activity that is going in the District in broad day light. The only people who benefit from the open and illegal gambling are the Rangbah Shnong and the person who operates the gambling. It is said that even some MDCs of the JHADC are involved in this illegal activity. May be it has to do with promoting traditional game and not gambling per-se.

The July 2, 2011 issue of The Shillong Times (ST) reported that on the 1 July around 3:30 pm a team of nine police personnel, an officer-in-charge, two Sub-inspectors and six constables went to Ynniamer near Ialong which is about 10 KM from Jowai to stop a reported gambling session and apprehend the operators. On seeing the police some gamblers fled the scene and the gambling operator too escaped with their gambling materials and money. It was reported that the Police could only seize few gambling apparatus from the side and around 300 gamblers and spectators were allowed to escape scot-free by the police. The ST correspondent Sannio Siangshai, a senior journalist of the district, and one who knows Khliehriat area like the back of his hand, also reported that the police officer who led the team to conduct the raid stated, “When we tried to arrest them, around 300 people surrounded us so we could not arrest anybody.” Now if the men in uniform who are supposed to stop illegal activities can be threatened by mere 300 rowdy gamblers, the question is, where is the rule of law in Jaintia hills district?

Gambling operators organise the illegal activity by obtaining NOC from the Rangbah Shnong of the area hence with full knowledge of the shnong. This illegal activity should also serve as an eye opener to the leaders of the Khlieh Nongsynshar that the function of the dorbar shnong or the traditional institution too, needs to be examined in right earnest. If the Dorbar Shnong patronize gambling and ostracize RTI activists instead of filing reports against the perpetrators of crime, then there is certainly something seriously wrong with the so called Khasi Pnar democracy.

Nowadays not only bullfighting is a popular gambling opportunity in Jaintia hills, even football matches in the coal mine areas are occasions for gambling for those with plenty of money to spare. The District is becoming a haven for gamblers and the authority turns its Nelson’s eye to the gambling that is going on in the Las Vegas of the East.

(The author is a research scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Demise of News of the World – victory for Journalism

How can the end of a more than a hundred years old newspaper be a victory for journalism? Yes we have just witnessed the demise of the 168 old Sunday paper and this news had rocked the media world in the west. The cause of the unexpected end of the tabloid is due to careless attitude of the media house which literarily threw journalistic ethics out of the window. The question is how can unethical journalistic practices of the staff of ‘News of the World’ become a victory for journalism?

I don’t remember reading the News of the World while I was in England, but it took me by surprise when I heard it on BBC that the news paper will stop publication from the very next issue. Even if I have never ever read the tabloid, the news of its end is a surprise to say the least. Once the rival paper in Britain brought to light the underhand operation of the reporters of this tabloid by paying the police for favours, it was certain that heads would roll. In spite of the seriousness of the situation in which the newspaper was in, I never thought that the 168 year old paper would finally go down. The very fact that the management of the tabloid decided to close the paper is what I consider to be a bold decision which shows moral responsibility and is keeping in line with true journalistic ethics, albeit quite late in the day.

The management of the paper could have held on for dear life to the newspaper by simply letting off the journalists who were responsible for the telephone hacking; the management could have saved its skin by striking off its roll the top notch employees of the newspaper, but instead decided to close down the paper. Everybody in the UK including the staff of the News of the World expected Rupert Murdoch’s blue-eyed girl Rebekah Brooks to put in her paper, but instead it is was the paper which had to go first. Obviously the point that the management of the newspaper made by closing the down the paper is that they committed a Himalayan blunder and owe moral responsibility for what had happened. By not doing anything when its reporter used underhand methods to gather news, the paper had crossed the Lakshman-Rekha of journalistic ethics and had to face the consequences. There is no other way out for the management of the newspaper but to close it down.

I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if one of the newspapers in the State met with a similar situation. Do you think the management of the newspaper would decide to close down and bid goodbye to the paper’s 7.5 million readers or will they try to find out ways and means to stay afloat? I think most of the papers would choose the easy way out; fire the errant reporter or even the editor and go on with life as usual. Blaming our subordinates and passing the buck to others always seems to be a sane and more viable alternative. On second thoughts, however, is there any likelihood that any newspaper in the state would face a similar situation? The answer is no. The press reporters in the State are either playing it safe or are plain lazy. It seems like all media persons in the state are armchair journalists. If that is not the case, then why do we seldom read any stories that expose the wrong-doings of people in high places? It looks like the term investigative journalism in still an alien word to our journalists.

Take any newspaper published from Shillong at any point of time and one will find that the news we read every day comprises only of press releases distributed or leaked by the different government departments and the many Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) or press statements again made by various departments, numerous NGOs and sometimes even individuals and add to that we also have reports of functions, incidents and accidents and that’s about it, period. Very rarely will readers stumble upon a story with in-depth reporting while rural reporting seems to be an unknown word in the Meghalaya journalists’ vocabulary; be it in the print or the electronic media. Oh yes, and there are but loads and loads of government and private advertisement. If there is any story which is worth calling investigative journalism story, it must have been investigated and unearthed by the NGOs and the press was only involved later. The case of the BDO of Mawryngkneng Block is a case in point. We are yet to read or see a story in any media which comes close to what we can call investigative reporting.

In spite of the commotion that the News of the World crisis created against investigative journalism, the truth remains that many scandals, corruption and wrong doings of politicians, celebrities and other people in high places particularly in the UK would not have been exposed if it was not for investigative journalism. The most recent case is the one which exposed the involvement of the cricketers of our neighboring country in match fixing. The scandal would not been exposed if it is not for investigative journalists who tracked the illegal activities of the cricketers. I am not trying to condone the illegal acts that the reporters of the News of the World have perpetrated in collaboration with the police. A crime is a crime, and wrong means used cannot justify the ends. These are early days and it remains to be seen what will be the outcome of the phone-hacking or the News of the World crisis. Will it be the end of the investigative journalism or will investigative journalism still remain a major journalistic tool to expose scandals and wrong doing of public figures? The fact remains that the line which divides cases of public interest and press freedom on the one hand and individual right to privacy and individual freedom on the other; is still as blurred as it has ever been with a vast grey areas in between.

Also compare the News of the World crisis to what happened in the political landscape of India, when the many major scams were reported. Everyone who was alleged to be involved in corruption, refused to resign and held on to their chairs until they were forced to do so, while others remained adamant till they were arrested. How many politicians choose to step-down from their position when there are allegations of corruption or wrong doing against them? In the case of the News of the World, when all the evidence against the paper were bared open for everyone to see, the management of the Sunday paper did not take time but decided to stop publication without waiting for the outcome of the police investigation or the report of any inquiry commission. No matter how important the history of the paper is or how many million lives the paper has touched, if it had committed a blunder, it must go. There is no excuse whatsoever for unethical journalistic acts of any kind and the paper must pay the prize.

The News of the World was a good read even on its very last edition, in fact reading the reports of its final edition reproduced by many newspapers and news agency is entertaining. Rupert Murdoch’s critics are of the opinion that the News of the World was closed to save his News Corporation take over bid of Britain’s 12 million dollar satellite company, British Sky Broadcasting or BSkyB. But Murdoch has proved his critics wrong and withdrawn from the bid. Other Murdoch critics suspect that the News of the World was systematically killed to make way for the media mogul’s News Corporation’s new venture. Even if this is true, the fact of the matter is that the News of the World is no more and the cause of its demise is unethical journalistic practice by its staff and that is the ultimate victory of ethical journalism and triumph of journalism with moral principles.

(The writer is a research scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Khasi Pnar debate

I was expecting many people to join in the debate on the dilemma of identity among the people who live in the Khasi and Jaintia hills but except for bah Armstrong Syiem, Kong Patricia Mukhim, Bah C Wanniang and Broncostar Thyrniang no one else took part in the discussion. I was hoping our scholars in the ivory tower to enlighten us on this important issue but the men and women of letters in the NEHU chose not to join in the debate, perhaps the issue is not relevant.

We have debated at length on the name of the tribe, some are of the opinion that we should continue with ‘Khasi’ as a common name of the tribe/community/society while others are of the opinion that Khasi is the name that other people use to describe us, so we need a name that best describes us. For the later section of our society perhaps ‘u hynniew trep or khun u hynniew trep’ is an appropriate name because it encompasses the entire community- the Khasi, the Pnars, the Wars, the Maram, the Lyngnam, the Bhois and others whom I might miss. The argument is strong because it is based on our common roots – the creation story, a mythology that we all share.

A large section of the Pnars in the Jaintia Hills District have their own reservation in calling themselves Khasi, for them Khasi is just another sub tribe of the pan-hynniewtrep-tribe. To the Pnars the Khasi are the Khynriam and may be the word Khynriam is derived from Khyriem the name of the state (hima) with which the then Jaintia Kingdom shared a common border. A recent debate which was carried out in the vernacular papers between the Seng Khasi and the Sein Raij is a case in point. When an elder from the Seng Khasi suggested that all the followers of the indigenous religion should come under one umbrella and register their religion as Niam Khasi in the recently concluded national census, Sein Raij vehemently objected to the idea. They are of the opinion that the followers of the indigenous religion in Jaintia hills should retain their own identity and register their religion as Niamtre. A senior Pastor of the Jowai Presbyterian church in a private conversation told me that Presbyterian Church too faces a similar situation when a section of the church leaders suggested that the church change the name of the Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly to the Khasi Presbyterian Assembly. The leaders of the Church from Jaintia hills opposed the idea and the issue was nipped in the bud and the Church retains its name as the Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly.

Perhaps Bah Paul Lyngdoh will be the best person to tell us about the reservations that the Pnars have against calling themselves Khasi. He had tried to form a unit of the Khasi Students Union in Jaintia Hills during his tenure but failed. Perhaps it is from this experience that in his later incarnation as a mature politician he chose a much inclusive name ‘Khun Hynniewtrep’ for his party. Having said that, a lot has changed since Bah Paul’s presidency of the KSU. Now we have KSU units in many parts of the District, but a large section of the population in Jaintia hills still have reservations about calling themselves Khasi. Don’t get me wrong when the Pnar insisted that they cannot accept the nomenclature Khasi to describe the tribe, it does not mean that they see themselves as a different from the Khasi. The Pnars believe that the Khasi, the Pnar, the Bhois, the Lyngngam are all but one community but each have their own unique history and identity that one cannot just wish away but needs to be respected by everyone. The Pnar believe that the Khasi, the Pnar, the War, the Bhoi, the Lyngngam share a common culture and a common language hence they are one. Ma Chaphrang Passah of Jowai in one of his posts on the facebook page “Save the Pnar Language” posted ‘Khasi Pnars are of the same race but of different tribes’ perhaps like the Nagas.

The call to use Khasi as a common name is based on the recent patriotic song, “Khynriam, u Pnar, u Bhoi, u War, u dei u paid Khasi ba iar,” but then there is also another patriotic song “Ri Khasi, Ri Jaintia nga ieid eh ia pha/ ka ri kaba ieid u barim u bajah/ ki tymmen mynhyndai la ngam iohi shuh/jingkynmaw ia ki kan ym duh…” This song recognizes the existence of the two erstwhile kingdoms of the Khasi and the Jaintia. To underline the uniqueness of these two aspects of the community; the land, the two communities live is sometime called ‘ka ri ki laiphew syiem, ki khad-ar daloi’ which means though our political system may vary; yet we are one community.

There are many poets and writers, who recognized and understood the distinctiveness of the Pnars who live in Jaintia hills, Victor Bareh in the opening lines of his patriotic song which is also the name of the poem, sings “Ri Khasi Ri Jaintia, Pangsngiat jong nga.” Hajom Kissor Singh Nongbri a lesser known Khasi poet realized the truth that the community (whatever we call it) comprises of many sub-tribes and opened his hymn known as the Unitarian anthem with this line “A Blei kyrkhu ia ngi Pnar, War, Bhoi bad Khasi, pynbha ia ngi.” Maintaining the fact that each unit of the community is unique; in another hymn he called “Ko paralok Khasi, ko paralok Pnar, ko paralok na ka pyrthei ba iar.” HK Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri who lived in the later part of 1800 and early 1900 spent his early adulthood in Jowai and hence must have understood the sentiments of the Pnars even in those early days.

I am all for using the inclusive name ‘hynniewtrep or khun u hynniewtrep’ to describe the tribe. I don’t foresee any objection towards the using of the name because all the Khasi, the Pnar and the Lyngngam share this common creation mythology. If we agree with the nomenclature of our tribe then we can continue on the next level of the debate, and that is are we still tribal. But can we still call ourselves tribe?

The Scheduled Tribe status is like a cocoon that we feel safe to wrap ourselves in. Nowadays even well to do families and the crème de la crème of the Khasi Pnar community use the Schedules Tribe tag, not because of anything else but to enjoy the benefits that come with it including not having to pay income tax. They live a western way of life and cannot even speak Khasi or Pnar and they don’t even follow any of the Khasi Pnar culture and traditions and they still call themselves STs. But we cannot deny the fact that there are also those who live in the villages whose way of life can only be described as tribal.

The next question is who is a Khasi Pnar or who is khun u hynniew trep? Kong Silverine Swer provided an answer to this question (rather unexpectedly) in the letter to the Editor the Shillong Times (March, 10, 2011.) She said “Please don’t ever forget your roots and your value system. It is your identity as u Khun U Hynniewtrep and this identity is inevitably link to nature and environment around us. As Khasis we have the responsibility to remind each other of this heritage and the ancient wisdom inherited from our forefather. Our wellbeing is today threatened because we seem to have forgotten our timeless connection to nature and environment.” A Khasi Pnar or Khun u hynniewtrep are those who still follow the culture, the tradition of the tribe and live by the value system that we inherited from our forefathers.

It is rather interesting to note that recently a conglomerate of NGOs under the leadership of the KSU and the FKJGP immediately after the preliminary report of the state census was declared, met the Chief Minister to discuss matters pertaining to threat of large scale influx to the State which they claim is the cause of the abnormal increase in the States’s population. The NGOs among others demanded that the Chief Minister introduce a mechanism to curb the influx of non-native populations to the State but at the same time demanded that the government introduce legislation for equal distribution of the family property in the Khasi Pnar society. This is confusing because the NGO went to meet the CM to with an intention to protect the identity of the tribe from being overwhelmed by outsiders, but what identity are we talking about when the demand is also to do away with the tradition of the youngest daughter inheriting the lion’s share of the family property which is part of Khasi identity? With the SRT (Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai) in the bandwagon, I will not be surprised if next time around the demand of the conglomerate of NGOs will be to do away with the lineage system that we follow. Then the question will be what identity are we trying to protect?

(The writer ia a scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Khasi Pnar beliefs in curse and witchcraft

The theme of today’s article is tricky; tricky in the sense that it is not a new subject since it is an issue that people usually discuss around the hearth of their homes and it is not an old subject either because one rarely sees any write-ups on this important subject. It is a subject matter that one must have heard people talk about or heard of it from one’s elders but seldom read about. I would not have dared to tread on this critical subject if the Mawlai incident had not occurred which was followed by Red FM programme ‘rat dyngkhong bad i kong ia ki kam bym long’. Obviously with the Mawlai incident in the backdrop, Red FM calls on listeners to let good sense prevail and not to let things like that to repeat again. But a few days back there were press reports that a similar incident had happened in Mowtyrchiah village of Jaintia Hills.

I would have written about it long time ago but feared that I might hurt somebody’s sentiments and hesitated to do so. Now that the subject is in the public domain, it is appropriate to start debating about it and I know full well that dealing with a matter relating to peoples’ beliefs is risky business but thanks to my liberal upbringing I was able (I think) to tread very cautiously in dealing with this vital issue of the Khasi Pnar society.

I remember when we were young, whenever I suffered from constipation, my father would take a pinch of lime (shun) and rub it on the pan leaf. Then he chanted some mantras and spat on the lime three times. Then he would take a little of that lime on his forefinger make a tick mark on my forehead move towards my tummy open my shirt and then draw a huge circle on my stomach and finish it with another lime-tick on my big toe. After that he would draw another circle on the pan leaf with a cross inside the circle and then place the lime-sketched pan-leaf at the nearest crossroad. This ritual is done because it is believed that somebody with evil eyes has cast a spell (sabuit in Khasi and Ske in Pnar) on me while I was eating, so the ritual is to cast away the spell from me.

In the past many houses have been damaged and owners of the houses have been ostracized by the village because the family is alleged to be a Thlen keeper, Taro keeper. Families were also detested by the village because it is alleged that they are in possession of the power of black magic or witchcraft and can cast evil spell (ai ksuid) on their enemies. In Jaintia hills fellow villagers avoid mixing with certain families because it is alleged that the family could cast a spell (ai bih in Khasi and e kymbad in Pnar) on somebody’s food and the victim would fall sick. When a person’s teeth falls rather un-naturally, it is believed that the person suffers from the Kymbad/Jymbieh/ Bih curse, and also neck pain and even throat cancer is attributed to Kymbad/ka Bih. The Welsh doctors at the KJP Hospital in Jowai diagnosed that my grandfather suffered from throat cancer, but the common belief is that he died of Kymbad. Families who are alleged to be keepers of Kynbad/ka Bih are forbidden from taking part in preparation of a community feast for fear that they may cast a spell on the food and that somebody who partakes of the community feast may suffer. The family is however not forbidden from joining in the feast but people would avoid sitting next to them or in opposite directions.

The Pnar’s belief about ‘Nong-ai-ksuid’ is quite different from that of the Khasis. In in the Khasi context (as I was given to understand) certain families are alleged to possess powers of black magic (‘nong-ai-ksuid’) because they can cast magic spell on their enemies to make them sick. In the Pnar context if any person wishes to cast evil spell on one’s enemies he would seek the help of a shaman (ksoh stad/pa stad) and pay him to do the job. It is believed that the shaman can do a variety of things to make the enemy suffer – similar to voodoo; he can make the cursed person sick or even make him pregnant with a piglet.

Not very long ago in the heart of Jowai town a locality where the entire population are Christians, the house of one family was damaged because a certain woman believed to suffer from a Taro spell which was alleged cast by the family whose house was damaged. When we were young we lived in a rented house which belonged to one of our very close relatives. I remember on many occasions a crowd would follow a sick woman (rarely a man) who would come running to our relative’s house; it is believed that the sick woman was possessed by the Taro that our relative allegedly kept. Not surprisingly our relatives are quiet well-off and like in the case of u Thlen, that is reason enough to confirm that our relatives are the Taro keepers because the Taro had blessed them with immense wealth. When a person is supposed to be possessed by the Taro, the person acts, behaves and even speaks like the alleged Taro keeper. The possessed-person is said to acquire a split personality of that of the Taro keeper and even assumed the name of the keeper. Taro can possess a person if she takes or consumes anything that the keeper shares no matter how big or small, and some time returning the favour helps the possessed person recover.

Later on my sisters fell sick and our parents called a shaman who declared that our two sisters were possessed by the Taro of our own relative. That caused the rift between the otherwise two loving families. After many years we realized that our sisters were suffering from a common disease and the two families re-united but not before a long and bitter separation that both the families suffered.

I now am very close with a family which some people allege to be the keepers of Taro (wa em blai iung). Very recently two members of their own family alleged that their Taro has possessed them. It is a common belief that a person who was possessed would run to the alleged keeper’s house and if the keepers accept and welcome the sick woman (because she has acquired the personality of the keeper) and admit that the Taro belongs to them, the spirit will leave the possessed woman and she will regain her health. On one such occasion the girl was brought to the family, since they are all but one family the father of the alleged Taro keeper’s family politely told those who brought the girl “we no longer believe in these kind of things. He instead offered to pray that the girl may be well, to which they all agreed. It is also believed that the keeper’s family inherited the Taro from their ancestors by inheriting the ancestral property. The father also told the family of the supposed possessed girl that he started his family from scratch and he did not take any of his wife’s property with him and questioned the allegation that his family inherited the Taro. He also remind that both he and his wife are government employees and even their children are in service and all their incomes are accounted. That brought the unfortunate episode to a close but the crack in the very close-knit family is yet to heal.

The alleged Taro keepers I interviewed said that they don’t know anything about the Taro and neither did their parents or grandparents ever tell them anything about it. Their house too has no place where the Taro is supposedly kept; neither do they have a wooden box that was not opened for ages. They only knew it from the allegation that was made against them by the family of the possessed person. In other words, it is simply an allegation that they are the Taro keepers. I have all respect for those who still believe in the power of course, spell and witchcraft. They are within their rights to do so, as long as it does not impinge on others’ rights or create undue problems in the community. I also think that if my father was still alive now I would still allow him to cast away the evil spell from my kids, (his grandchildren) as long as it did not harm them but I would not blame others for their sickness.

Obviously, the belief in curse and witchcraft is still prevalent in the society; it is not for me to play judge here and conclude that it is just a false notion; the subject needs to be debated if Khasi Pnar society is to move forward. Now that the call for legalization, propagation of traditional healing and traditional medicine is gaining momentum, the pertinent question is do we need to draw a line between true herbal medicine and shamanism? Do we need to draw a line where superstition (for want of a better word) ends and herbal medicine begins?

(The author is a research scholar and elder of the Unitarian Church)