The week that was will be remembered as the bloodiest week in the history of the state of Meghalaya. That three people were murdered in a span of two days in two different districts of the state is not something that people of the state should allow to pass by without thorough introspection. It was sheer coincidence that I sent and article to this paper on human sacrifice which I had researched for many years now and was able to complete during the last Durga Puja period. When the paper hit the stands I felt very uncomfortable fearing lest the readers would misunderstand my position and get me wrong as someone who glorifies human sacrifice. And with the two incidents of murder getting first lead in all the newspapers almost every day, it only got me more worried. I thought to myself that maybe it was wrong to send the article for publication at this particular juncture.
My initial reaction to the first report of the Shillong Times on the brutal murder of a seven year old boy in what is suspected to be a form of human sacrifice is to dismiss it as unreal. I said to a close friend, “I thought human sacrifice (at least in Meghalaya) are only myths and exist in the realm of legends and folk tales only.” But I am wrong. We have read in the news, reports of suspected human sacrifices performed in different parts of our country, but perhaps this is the first time that such an incident has occurred in our State. But I am more worried to see the kind of reaction or to put it bluntly the lack of any reaction from the people of the State against the inhumane act. Except for few letters to the editor carried by the Shillong Times, civil societies, the NGOs or even the Church maintained a stoic silence. Not a single voice of condemnation against the drastic act was heard, except the Central Puja Committee. I asked myself, “Why this indifference?” Is it because the family that lost a precious soul is a non-tribal family and that the father was a mere water porter? What would happen (God forbid) if the affected family is a tribal family – a Garo, a Khasi or a Pnar or even a rich and well to do non-tribal family?
Even the GSU remained silent, quire forgetting that the name of Tura and Garo hills is also tarnished by the incident. Very soon this satanic act will also pass; people will forget about it and the criminals involved in the heinous crime will also be released, maybe even be reinstated in their respective services and enjoy all the benefits due, because the poor family cannot afford to fight for justice and the life of young boy will just be another number in the statistics book and a blemish in our history.
The next part of this write-up is about the ‘menshohnoh’ phenomenon which continues to be the cause of untimely death of many poor and innocent people. Hundreds of people were killed in the entire Khasi Jaintia hills district suspected to be ‘nongshohsnoh, men-ai-ksuid, nongri-thlen, nongai-bih and keepers of blei-iing -Taro. If one is found to walk aimlessly in the village he is a suspected men-shohnoh; if one gets rich too one is suspected to be nong-ri-thlen, nong-ri-taro. This is a unique Khasi Pnar phenomena and to borrow from what my friend Mainpillar Passah who said, “If an outsider is found walking in the village during odd time nothing will happen to him, but if a Khasi Pnar is found to roam in the same village at an odd hour then he is suspected to be menshohnoh.”
The pertinent point in this case is that the murder happened in Sohra where the British came to settle first and which become the cradle of Christianity and the place where the foundation of education in the Khasi Jaintia hills was laid. One would expect that the people of Sohra would be more educated and sane enough not to lynch anybody merely on suspicion; unfortunately neither the supposed enlightenment from the church nor education can prevent things like this from happening again and again across the Khasi Jaintia and Ri Bhoi District. Come to think of it, one wonders what the position of the church is vis- a- vis the beliefs of menshohnoh, nongai-ksuid, ka bih, ka taro etc?’
Sohra is also the foundation “Ka Akor Khasi;” (Khasi etiquette, ethics and moral uprightness) which we are all proud of. But in this unpleasant incident, akor Khasi has taken a back seat to give way to the worst form of inhuman behaviour. The question that fellow Khasi Pnars ask is, “Where has the akor Khasi gone?’ Is this the sign that akor Khasi is gradually losing ground and ironically in the place of its own birth? If in a mob fury, a person is killed, isn’t that a sin (ka pap ka sang) too? There is no justification for killing a person. In this case isn’t it true that the perpetrator/s of the crime are ‘the real menshohnoh?’
Certainly the incident could not have taken place without the knowledge of the village dorbar or at least the headman. To take leaf out of the letter to the editor ‘probably the three were put to trial in a kangaroo court of the village and were pronounced guilty by the same.’ How can people take the law in their own hands? Does the dorbar shnong have the authority to try and punish anybody? How can we let this happen in the land of what we Khasi Pnar proudly claim to be “Ka Ri tipbriew tipblei?” I have heard that the dorbar shnong also have lockups. Who gave the dorbar shnong the authority to keep lock-ups? Is the rangbah shnong qualified to conduct any sort of trial? What is the authority of a dorbar shnong anyway? Can it pronounce capital punishment? It is imperative that the District Councils come up with a white paper to define the powers and functions of the dorbar shnong and perhaps come up with a list of do’s and don’ts to prevent rangbah shnongs from abusing their powers like ostracizing villagers for having the courage to challenge the rangbah shnong.
The recent incident should make every thinking Khasi Pnar introspect. As a community we need to ask ourselves where do we go from here? Thankfully, the law has taken its own course and the culprits were arrested. But the question is, is this enough? Few week or months from now, we will again read another report of menshohnoh being lynched or beaten black and blue and some families will unfortunately lose their near and dear ones, for no fault at all. When will this stop? Isn’t it time we all say, ‘enough is enough’, ‘no more lynching people in the name of menshohnoh, nong-ai-ksuid’ and let the rule of law prevail. Less than hundred people died of AIDS in the state and the government spends crores of rupees to make people aware of the threat from the disease. Isn’t it time that the government also consider making people aware of the threat of believing in the idea of menshohnoh, nongai ksuid etc. Perhaps the church too has a vital role to play in educating people that the idea of menshohnoh is but a myth, the place of which is in the Khasi Pnar folklore.
(The writer is a researcher and social thinker)