Sunday, July 29, 2012

Heritage sites in Jaintia Hills

Jaintia Hills is one of the three original districts of the State of Meghalaya when it was carved out of the erstwhile composite State of Assam in the year 1972. The District has some incredible heritage sites and some unique flora and fauna distinct only to this part of the country. Apart from the flora and fauna, Jaintia Hills also has many historical monuments and of course a rich culture, from traditions to food and from dress to pottery.
The people of Lynrai village are the keepers of a unique Pottery tradition as it is commonly known “Khiew Ranei” in Khasi and “Kchu Lyrnai” in Pnar. The pots for baking Putharo ( a steamed rice bread) are made in Lyrnai only and nowhere else. Lyrnai is a small hamlet of about 6 km from Ummulong village which is on the NH 44. It is the only place where people are still involved in making pottery. Lyrnai pots are not only used for baking Putharo but there are also pots of different shapes and sizes used for other purposes too. Some of the pots made in Lyrnai have religious significance; these pots are still being used by the Doloi of Nartiang to perform some rituals. Another type of pot made at Lyrnai is also used by the people in the traditional religion for the purpose of keeping a piece of the severed umbilical cord that connects the newborn baby with its mother.
Nartiang is famous for its Dolmen and Menhirs and also for its monolith park which is the only place where one could see the largest collection of monoliths in the entire state of Meghalaya. The tallest monolith in the whole of the Khasi Jaintia hills can be found in the monolith park of Nartiang. Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom also has monuments made by the people of that era which includes mookhrah, etc. There are two temples in Nartiang one is a Durga temple and the other in a Shiva temple. In the Shiva temple there are old canons used by the Jaintia kings in the past. There are also two lakes in Nartiang dug by Sajar Nangli, Umtisong and Myngkoi tok and another of Sajar Nangli’s well preserved and protected lake is the Thadlaskein lake.
Few kilometers from Jowai on the Jowai-Dawki road or rather Jowai- Muktapur road, is the famous stone bridge and a collection of dolmen and menhirs at Thlumuwi. The bridge connects the erstwhile Jaintia King’s winter and summer capital and the monoliths served as a “Kor shongthait” (resting place) for the people to rest and relax before they continue on their arduous journey.
Before reaching Jarain there is a lake which is now called the Pitcher plant Lake. That is because Amlarem, the seat of the Amlarem development block is famous for another unique natural heritage of the district- the Pitcher plant. The Pitcher plant Park is on the left of the Jowai Amlarem road and it is situated in a place called Myrkein. It may be mentioned that apart from Balpakram National park; this unique insect eating plant can be found in different parts of Jaintia Hills like in Chyrmang-Yongnoh near Jowai, Myndihati, Wahiajer in Khliehriat Sub-Division, but Jarain-Amlarem area is the only place where is it found in abundance and the park is easily accessible. In Amlarem there is also the famous water-fall the Krang Shuri falls and adjacent to it there is the Umiaknieh stone bridge. The Umianieh stone bridge also has some sculpture or carving on stone in some part of the bridge.
Syndai is a small village on the Southern slope of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh but this tiny hamlet has in its possession a massive collection of heritage both natural and manmade. In the natural heritage category we have the famous Syndai cave, which is not only one of the most beautiful caves but it is also a tourist friendly cave. Apart from the natural cave in the village, there is also the famous Royal Path that connects the two capitals of the ancient Jaintia Kingdom. In front of the Syndai cave there’s a ruined temple partly destroyed by time and weather and also by the banyan tree which grew over the temple. Near the temple there is a small stone path that leads down to the wah (river) Umpubon and few minutes’ walk from the temple, is a stone sculpture. It is carved on one lose rock. The sculpture is that of Ganapati or Ganesh, the elephant god of the Hindu pantheon. The path from the Pubon leads down to the Wah Umpubon. Here also one can see a few sculptures, and the most prominent is that of the elephant under the river water.
A few minutes walks to the left of Wah Umpubon (after crossing the Jowai-Amlare-Muktapur road) one can see the magnificent bathing ghat. Rupasor is a bathing tub carved on one very huge rock. It is a 10-meter square shaped tub and its depth is 4 meters. The rocky bathing tub was well carved with steps that lead to the pool. To the left of the pool an elephant head was sculpted on the same rock, but sad to say the trunk of the elephant is broken. On the entry point to the pool, there is another sculpture of the sun and the moon on the rock. From the pool a walk on the steps down the path that leads to the plains of Bangladesh. There is a stone bridge of a better architectural work and there is another stone bridge near the Wah Umpubon.
Nongtalang also has a cave but perhaps not fit for amateur cavers. The village also has quite a few monoliths in and around the village. Most of these monolith have religious significance. Nongtalang is the only place where the tradition of erecting monoliths is still practiced. War Jaintia is also famous for its living root-bridges. A living root bridge is formed when two Ficus elastica or Ficus Indicus trees (dieng jri in local parlance) are planted on each side of the river, and once the tree starts growing humans manipulate the roots of the trees to connect to each other to span across the river. In Nongtalang village there is one bridge over the river Amrngiang on the way from Nongtalang to Amlympiang, another is on the river Amladiar on the Amtyrngui River and there are two more root bridges one over Amdap Sohpiang and another over the Amdoh stream.
In Padu village there are three living-root bridges very close to village which is again less than 10 kilometers away from Amalrem. All the three living-root bridges in the village are on the Amdep creek. There are two living-root bridges in Kudeng rim a village near Sohkha village. One of the two bridges in Kudeng Rim village is on the river Amlamar and another is on the river Amkshar. There is one living-root bridge in Darang village on the river Amsohmi and another two in the Khonglah village one over the Amsohkhi rivulet and another over the Amlunong stream.
This is perhaps the first of the two write-ups I plan on the natural and man-made sights which have a heritage value in Jaintia hills. In the subsequent article I will also write on the sacred forests in Jaintia hills.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Media spotlight on Northeast

In the last few weeks the North Eastern region of the country has received the media attention that the people of the region had wished for so long but for the fact that the media glare is for all the wrong reasons. The people of the North East have blamed the national media for neglecting the region, and the common refrain is that many important stories from the here go unreported. There were also those who suggested that perhaps we need to buy space in the national press for stories from the North East to appear in the national media like we do for advertisements. But in the last few weeks the northeast received more than its fair share of media attention.
The first story that captured the limelight was the coal mine tragedy in Nengkol near Baghmara in Garo Hills, in which precious lives were lost and the fate of the 15 miners is uncertain. The situation has put the state government and the mining department in particular in an awkward position; it only goes to show how ill-prepared the government is to meet such eventualities The incident also brings to the fore the farce about local governments in the state where the nokmas or the headmen are said to be all in all in the area of their jurisdiction. Yet in this case they failed to do anything to rescue the miners. The delay in reporting the unfortunate incident and the effort to cover-up can only happen when the nokma or the headman is involved in the incident. And because the government is yet to have a mining policy in place everything went haywire. The saving grace for the government of Meghalaya came from the unfortunate incident of molestation of a girl in Guwahati. This incident pushed the mining disaster to the backburner. The media spotlights shifted its focus to Guwahati.
The incident exposes how ill-prepared the state is in case of such eventualities but more importantly of the sheer absence of any rule of law in the mining areas of the state. There were also reports that the roads caved-in because of mining activities underneath them. Then there were reports of mining in the heritage sites where caves are destroyed, trees are cut and forest was cleared for mining, and yet for reasons best known to the Mining Department, the policy is still being kept in abeyance. One hopes that this will be a wakeup call for the minister in charge of mining and hopefully make him realize that the state cannot afford to delay the implementation of the proposed state mining policy any further.
The two incidents in Assam which captured the spotlights are the molestation case and the assaults on the lady MLA. Both incidents are cases of moral policing. The MLA was assaulted because she allegedly committed adultery and married a Muslim. I don’t see why people should have a problem with the personal life of an individual, if she is not happy with the marriage; what right do the goons have to assault her, how she lives her life is her choice. If she converts to another religion again that is not only her constitutional right but also a basic a human right. From the legal point of view the problem is if she enters into a marriage without divorcing her previous husband. But again there is the law of the land to deal with such issues. The matter is a private affairs of the couple so how does it concern the thugs who assaulted her and the new man her life? But the incident that has shocked the nation was the molestation of the young girl in the heart of the city of Guwahati. I remember while watching the un-pixilated youtube video, the first word that came to me was barbaric and that was what I posted on the Facebook. The young men who attacked the girl look like wolves to me; I can’t think of them as human beings. Who gave them the right to touch a woman? Who gave them the right to mercilessly assault and abuse a hapless girl? No one has the right to even assault a relative. How can anyone treat a human being like a toy? For one who has a daughter of a similar age I feel like this is happening to her. I can feel the pain and the anguish of the parents of the girl, but the big question is what does it say about our society? If this is happening is Guwahati it can happen in Shillong, Tura or Jowai. What kind of young men do we have in the society today? This is a big question that the society at large needs to address. It is also a question for every parent. Are we not to blame when such incident happens?
Such incidents shows that there is something wrong with the way we bring up our boys. It also confirms that the same archaic attitude which exist in every religion that the girls or women are subordinate to men, hence men folk have the right to do moral policing on the fairer sex, is still alive. Yes, some would say that the woman are to be blamed too, they attract undue attention to themselves when they act and dress strangely and do not conform to the traditional lifestyle. But are we not living in a free country where each citizen is entitled to live one’s life according to the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution? As long as the person does not infringe on the rights of another citizen, I don’t see why one’s way of life should be a problem for any individual or the society at large. When I think of those who justify what befalls a woman and blame the way women dress for all the crimes committed against women, I say thank goodness there are no beaches in the northeast otherwise there will be a rape case every second (because then women will all dress in bikini) and police will indeed have to be like ATMs, to borrow from the police officers phrase.
I have to be careful with my comments on the role of the video journalist who recorded the incident knowing that many journalists are in the job without any formal training. I can only put myself in the journalist’s shoes and think what would I do if it was me in his place. If I were in the video journalist shoes, I would immediately call the police (before I even start rolling the camera) because a crime has been committed. In the meantime I would record the video footage or the photograph of the incident which is my duty. And I don’t think I need a 30- minute footage for my story, so after recording the incident for few minutes I would stop, intervene and try to stop the goons from molesting the girl.
Then there is the question of identifying the girl. It is wrong to disclose the identity of the girl, first, because she is still a juvenile and second she is a victim and by naming her we do more harm than good. It reminds me of a similar incident in Shillong where the identity of boys who were caught smoking in the toilet was not protected, the private channel did not even pixilate the faces of the boys to protect their identity.
The last story on the national media was the attempt to kill a female journalist in Arunachal Pradesh. The incident also brings to light the fact that journalists are treading on a dangerous track. I therefore salute all the women who have taken journalism as their profession. Yes, you can say that this is for the other half of humanity.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Elections 2013: Tickets up for sale

Allegations that political parties are allotting tickets to candidates based on their winnability factor are gaining ground. But what is also learnt is that political partesi are assessing the winnability factor by the amount of money a candidate has to splash around during the elections. And now that politics is fast becoming a lucrative profession, businessmen and women of every hue are making a beeline to join politics in hordes. No wonder political parties both regional and national prefer to allot party tickets to these mercenaries with fat bank balances because money undoubtedly is one major winnability factor. There were allegations in the past that rich candidates were allotted ticket because they were also expected to contribute to the party’s election kitty. But one thing is certain – if there are two contenders for the party ticket – one a well qualified candidate and another a semi literate but with a big bank balance – the ticket will go to the latter because the one with educational qualification cannot win elections but money can.
If we think that poor people who make a long queue in front of the candidates’ houses during elections are the only ones who get monetary benefits during election, then we are far off the mark. In fact, those who make a beeline for the candidates’ houses are simply demanding money for their immediate needs like hospital bills, children’s education, young people for picnics and excursions etc and the candidates may, at best also have to serve them tea and rice. This is just a fraction of the money that candidates spend during election. A person I know told me recently that she had been advised to undergo a surgical operation but she could not afford it. She was then introduced by an acquaintance of hers to a candidate for the ensuing election and now she is ready to go under the scalpel – courtesy the candidate. There are also NGOs taking undue advantage of the election to benefit their organization. But we will be appalled to know that big money changes hands between a candidates and the many layers of supporters that he has. In other words, a candidate has to spend more money to gain supporters particularly those who are in leadership positions in their respective areas.
A serious contender in Jaintia hills began his electioneering two years ago. This young candidate and a first time MLA, who started electioneering much before any other candidates did have been able to remove all potential candidates from his constituency two years before the election is expected to happen. He was able to make the current and the only non-congress MLA to move from the present constituency lock stock and barrel and seek re-election from another constituency in the district. The current MLA from the constituency was forced to look for a greener pastures and the tycoon MLA was also able to convince the previous MLA and a possible strong contender against him to shift base to another constituency in another district. Both the candidates voluntarily moved to another constituency to enable this young business tycoon have a cake walk next February and there is all likelihood that this candidate might return uncontested too. But the big question is – how was he able to convince the two contenders to make way and allow him to have a smooth sailing next election?
When a candidate is asked to make way for another candidate so that he has an easy win, in Pnar they call it ‘chah pynchong’ or ‘he was asked to sit’. And yes your guess is as good as mine; the candidate or the potential candidate, who was asked to sit or withdraw his candidature on behalf of the other, would not do so unless he benefited from the deal. There is again a saying in Pnar about such events. They call it ‘ka bai pynchong’ or the price one asks for withdrawing one’s candidature. The trend is now increasing. There are candidates who announce their candidature for the next election only to withdraw later when the deal is struck and the price is settled with the opposing candidate. It is another way of earning easy money for people with popularity. This is one way how money exchanges hands during elections and of course the candidates are not for sale, but candidature is and it involves big money.
The recent deals that the Congress MDC from Jirang and a strong contender for the Congress party ticket entered with the MP to make way for his friend to contest from Jirang constituency bears a striking resemblance to the many cases of candidates who were urged to withdraw (chah pynchong) in favour of another candidate. The deal the two Congressmen struck which was reported in the media leave ample room for speculation that there is more to it than meets the eyes and everybody knows that the MDC would not withdraw his candidature unless he benefited from the deal and only the MP, MDC, and the potential Congress candidate from Jirang Constituency who also claims to be a descendant of Kiang Nangbah will know.
This column had predicted that Jaintia Hills would have more than 7 MLAs. In other words, more than 7 MLAs of Jaintia origin will win the next election. Jirang was not on the list then. The list includes a business tycoon from Jaintia hills with no formal education contesting from Umroi, the previous MLA of Nartiang who has to shift base to Nongkrem to make way for the high and the mighty, possibly a JHADC MDC from Sohryngkham. The present MLA from Rymbai is expected to contest from Umsning. These are the candidates from Jaintia expected to contest the 2013 elections from East Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi District with the backing of money bags from the district. Most of these candidates will contest the election come what may, because they know that money is the only winning factor in the election; and that they have in plenty.
Huge amounts of money are also spent on buying canvassers and leaders in the villages and regions of the constituency. To improve their winning chances the common strategy adopted by many candidates during elections is to make sure they have the support of the local MDC of the area and also as many Rangbah Shnong as possible on their side. The MDCs too have their own price; they make sure that the expenditure they incur during the campaign is replenished after elections and some even charge a hefty fee for their support and to canvass for the candidate. The candidate also makes sure that the Rangbah Shnong or the leader in the village is pumped with enough money to cover expenditures like serving tea, rice for the villagers and even to buy their votes.
Sad to say but we are not going to see any change with regards to the use of money power in the coming election. Money will play a major role and it will influence the election results of every constituency particularly those in the rural areas. In fact if there is any change it will be for the worse. More money is going to change hands during the elections. In some cases the process has already started. Even fresh candidates have to arrange excavators for making village playgrounds, roads etc. Candidates also require money to donate to NGOs and to distribute to voters to pay hospital bills, children’s education and etc. Candidates are also being invited to grace all kinds of functions. They have to offer money at every event invited.
So money does indeed make the election world go round despite what the Election Commission of India rules!

Meghalaya miners: Rescue operations called off

Guwahati, July 13, 2012
Operations to rescue 15 miners trapped in a water-filled Meghalaya coalmine since July 6 afternoon were called off on Friday as slushy conditions were beyond the scope of the rescuers. Failure of magnetic life detectors to locate any heartbeat was also a factor.

A 31-member team of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) had reached the mine at Rongsa Awe village Wednesday night. The team called off the mission after 14 hours of search.
“The NDRF submitted a report saying they found no trappers. They also said the chances of their survival in highly acidic water were very thin,” South Garo Hills district deputy commissioner in-charge RP Marak said.
“Because of incessant rainfall, the mine access was slushy. Our canine squad, capable of sniffing up to 50-60ft did not find sings of life beneath. Neither did our magnetic life detectors register any heartbeat. That area needs excavators and earthmovers to get to the trapped miners,” NDRF commandant AK Singh told HT.
Singh added the rescue mission could have borne fruit had they received information immediately. “The incident happened on Friday, and it wasn’t until Monday or Tuesday that mine operators informed the local authorities. This is too long a time.”
Mines in Meghalaya are owned by the tribal communities. Though mining laws are applicable, the government seldom interferes. Multi-layered systems of governance – traditional village durbars, jurisdiction of king-like chieftains and district councils – with overlapping jurisdiction also add to the confusion.
“Rat-hole mines are not only dangerous for miners; they are a threat to the environment. Mine owners, enjoying patronage from the power lobby, are least bothered if abandoned mines are sealed to prevent disasters. And because of unscientific mining, we have ended up with dead rivers with no aquatic life forms left,” green activist HH Mohrmen said from Jaintia Hills district headquarters Jowai.
Meanwhile, the local police arrested the mine owner – he is also the headman of the village – a foreman and a head labourer on Thursday for causing death due to negligence. Mine operator Gurdeep Singh had been arrested earlier this week.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Behdieñkhlam prayer for bountiful harvest and to rid off evils

Very often Behdieiñkhlam is being defined by merely describing the literary meaning of the name of the festival, the term beh-dieñ-khlam comprises of three words ‘Beh’ literarily means to chase or to rid off and ‘dieñ’ means wood or log and ‘khlam’ means plague, epidemic or pestilence. So Behdieñkhlam literarily means the festival to rid off or get rid of the plague but that is not what Behdieñkhlam is all about.
Very few people know that altogether there are 6 Behdieñkhlam festival celebrated by the Pnars throughout the year, the first behdieñkhlam was celebrated by the raij Chyrmang, then followed by the raij Jowai, Tuber, Ialong, Mukhla and raij Muthlong. Rupaia Lamarr lecturer of Kiang Nangbah Government College has aptly described the festival when he said: “Behdieñkhlam is an agrarian festival which is a testimony to an advanced culture of wetland cultivation as against Jhum cultivation practiced by other indigenous communities.” Lamarr also said “It is also during the festival that family members and relatives experience the joy of homecoming. It is a time to be at home with Mother Nature and dance on its lap, its soil and its water, Behdieñkhlam also expresses the relationship between man and god, man and nature and man with fellow men.” He also added that “at the community level Behdieiñkhlam is a joint effort to drive away evil and diseases, the prayers and sacrifices offered to god are for the health, the economy and the society.”
K.C. Rymbai Daloi of the elaka Jowai recently has confirmed to this writer that the festival indeed has a fine connection with the agricultural activities of the people. The main part of the festival was the council of the 4 high priest of the four raijs, the raij Jowai, raij Tuber, raij Chyrmang and Ialong. Rymbai also said that every part of the rituals performed throughout the year in preparation of Behdieñkhlam intricately link with agriculture. The significant of Thoh Langdoh is after the ritual is performed then people can start planting cucumber, pumpkins, beans and various types vegetables and it is only after another ceremony ka Chat thoh that farmers can start tilling their paddy fields.

The various Behdieiñkhlam klam festivals celebrate by different raij also signifies the many important events of rice cultivation. The first raij to celebrate Behdieñkhlam is the raij Chyrmang and it indicates that time for tilling the paddy fields has started. The Jowai Behdieñkhlam signifies the season after the seeds was been placed on the lap of mother nature and the raij Tuber’s Behdieiñkhlam coincides with the time that farmers has done with weeding the weeds from the fields, the raij Ialong celebrates its Behdieiñkhlam when the rice plant starts to flowers and the celebration of the raij Mukhla’s festival suggest the advent of the harvest season.

So Behdieiñkhlam is not merely about the plague but it testify to the fact that the Pnar of Jaintia were the first tribe in the region to develop their farming from Jhum cultivation to a more developed farming practices, while their counterpart like the War Jaintia, the Karbis and even the Biates still practice Jhum cultivation till as recent as the early nineties. 

The three days and four nights Annual Behdieiñkhlam festival of the Pnars always starts with the tradition of offering food to the ancestors in a tradition call “Ka Siang ka Pha” or “Ka Siang ka Phur.” Of course preparation for the annual Behdieñkhlam festival was started many months back but the immediate rituals and sacrifices that precedes the designated days of the festival are the ‘kñia khang’ performed on Muchai; the first day after the market day of the week and ‘kñia pyrthad’ sacrifice to the thunder god on the Mulong the seventh day of the same week. But the festival officially begins on the sixth day (Pynsiñ) of the eight days a week traditional calendar of the Jaintias.
The feast of offering food to the death is a mark of veneration and gratitude to the ancestors the forbearer of the clan and the tradition. In the Khasi Pnar concept of the afterlife, departed souls reside with the Creator and eat bettlenuts in the courtyard of his abode. The spirit of the death (ki syngngia ki saret) every year, decent down to the Earth to partake in the feast provided by the descendant still alive in the world to propitiate the departed souls. Ka Siang ka pha is celebrated by every clan except when there is sickness in the family or if death has just occurred in the family. The family which had just met with bereavement, do not perform the offerings because the annual ‘ka siang ka pha’ has already been offered to the departed souls as part of the last rite of a person. It begins with family informing the children of their maternal uncles or their brothers (khon kha) about the preparation for the offerings to the ancestors. The ‘khon kha’ offers money (pyn-nam) as a token of respect, love and affection to their paternal family. This also has a connection with one of the cardinal principle of the Khasi-Pnar known as (ka tip kur tip kha,) respect for one’s family of both mother’s and father’s side. Not all clan perform their offering to the death on Pynsiñ, there are also clan which perform ‘ka siang ka pha’ on Muchai the last day of the festival.
In the traditional calendar “Mulong,” is the day before the market day “musiang,” the market day in Jowai is also the second day of the fest. By the end of the day all the Dieñkkhlam, all 9 round neatly carved logs were kept at their allotted place in the Iawmusiang area. The 9 Dieñkkhlams cut from huge trees were prepared and carried to their respective place at Iawmusiang by the 7 localities namely Tpep-pale, Dulong, Panaliar, Lumiongkjam, Iongpiah Loompyrdi Iongpiah, Loomkyrwiang and Chilliang Raij being the khon Raij was by tradition given the responsible to prepare and bring two round log called ‘Khnong blai’ and ‘Symbood khnong’.
The third day of the holy week is “Musiang” it is also the last day of the week and on this particular day all the Dieñkhlam and the Khnong are carried from the heart of Jowai town to the respective localities. Apart from the 7 dieñkhlam and two khnong; hundreds of 15 to 19 feet trees called ‘ki Dieñkhlam khian (small Dieñkhlam) were cut by the followers of the Niamtre. 2 or 3 of these tiny Dieñkhlam were kept in the frontage or patio of every house of the followers of the Niamtre. The tiny Dieñkhlam are used when the community dancer come to bless the house and use it to beat the rooftop of the house symbolizing ridding away the plaque and evil spirit from the house and pray to the almighty God to bless the family. By tradition every tree cut during Behdieñkhlam was done so with proper prayer and asking for exoneration from the Mother Nature (Bei ram-aw) and the Ryngkaw the basa, the gods; the guardian angels of the area.
Muchai is the last day of the Behdieñkhlam festival of the Jowai Raij and it is also the first day of the eight days a week traditional calendar. The day started in the wee hour of the morning with the tradition of ‘kyntiñ khnong’ at the Priestess official house. The programme was followed by the Ka Bam tyngkong led by the Daloi at the clan-house of the first four settlers of Jowai town. But the main part of the festival was the coming together of all the khon (children) ka Niamtre at the sacred Aitnar, a pond in which the last significant part of the festival was performed. The ‘ia knieh khnong’ traditions at the sacred pool is whence men compete to set foot on the ‘khnong’ symbolized cleansing of the souls and blessing for good health. 
The climax of the day is the arrival of the colourful Rots brought by the many dongs of the Jowai town to be displayed at the Aitnar, and all the beautiful Rots are then rid-off as part of the offering. 
Dat Lawakor, the last part of the Behdieñkhlam is about the farming community in the Jowai Raij, asking God to indicate which of the two valleys around Jowai, the Pynthor neiñ or the Pynthor wah will yield a good harvest this year. It is a football played using a wooden ball with no goals bars. The only rule of the game is that the team which can carry the ball to the designated end wins and the particular direction will reap better harvest that year.

The end result of education

What is the ultimate goal of education? Is the purpose of education just to confer diplomas and degrees on students? Is that the sole aim of education? For that matter, how do various boards of school examination and universities evaluate and decide on the progress of a student? Are examinations a fool-proof mechanism to decide on the intelligence of the student and her/her ability to comprehend what is learned? And the most important question is: is the prescribed syllabus and the courses of study relevant for the student or is it going to be of any use to them to live a better life in the future? But the most important question is the system on which we evaluate and decide the progress of the student.
A couple of weeks ago The Shillong Times carried a letter to the editor by a student who understandably requested that her/his identity remain undisclosed. This student highlighted some pertinent problems faced by students of Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education (MBOSE) I was given to understand that the concern of students and their parents is that those who migrate to other boards in the country were able to score better percentages than students who pass out of MBOSE. In the letter the student raised two pertinent questions (1) Is the prescribed syllabus of the Meghalaya Board too cumbersome (2) Is the teaching approach a hindrance to students to score higher marks. What the student did not ask was whether there is any difference in the way the various boards in the country evaluate, assesses and allot marks?
Few days later, The Shillong Times carried an article by a person the paper introduced as one of the toppers in the recent board examinations and the writer basically sermonized that students should not find fault with the system but should carry on and work hard to achieve their goals. Point taken, but the question is how can one accept one’s result when the various boards evaluate and mark their students differently? Some boards are liberal in their marking and this is not my statement but that of the vice Chancellor of Delhi University. When a private TV channel approached him for a statement on the cut-off marks for admission in the premiere colleges of the University, the VC ascribed the problem to the liberal marking that some of the boards are using. This means that there are boards which are liberal in their marking and others which are conservative. How does this translate for the students? The future of the student is being decided by the boards. If the student passes out from a board with a liberal marking system then her/his future is secured while the fates of those who study in those boards with a conservative marking approach are doomed.
The editorial of the premiere English daily in eastern India stated that the students who secured above 90 marks in the recent Class 12 examination conducted by a central board is more than three percent. Compare this with the results of the MBOSE. What is the percentage of students who cleared the same exam with more than 90 percent marks? Tell us Mr. Chairman, isn’t there something wrong with the way boards evaluate and allot marks? The different methods of evaluation and marking adopted by the various boards is also the main reason that a section of the IITs rejected the Minister of HRD Kapil Sibal’s proposal to give due weightage to the student’s Class 12 examination results for admission to the premiere engineering institutes in the country. The different methods that the boards adopts is now affecting the fate of the students who are applying for the state government quota to study engineering, medicine, agriculture etc. In the past decade most of the students selected for government quotas were MBOSE students. But I am sorry to say that very few students of MBOSE will make it to the list this time. In fact it is the duty of the board to see how many of their students are selected for study in government sponsored institutions and how they fared in the various entrance tests like IEEE, PMET, AIMS entrance test, JIPMER and even NEIGRIHMS. How many MBOSE students crack other entrance tests in a year? This will help the Board to assess itself and improve on its performance.
The trend of parents preferring to get their kids admitted in schools run by other boards started a few years ago. Now most parents prefer to get their children admitted to schools affiliated to boards other than MBOSE. Now hundreds of parents (who can afford it) send their kids to study in the state of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even CBSE affiliated schools in Assam perhaps because of the liberal marking system that the boards in these states adopt. When even our kids opt to study outside Meghalaya, can the government still brand Shillong as the education hub of the northeast?
I am no fan of examinations as a way to evaluate a student’s progress and I don’t believe there is a fool-proof system to evaluate a student’s academic progress. It reminds me of the time when I passed my HSLC back in March 1984. The assistant headmaster of the school on seeing me in the campus, asked me what division I secured and assumed that I passed in the third division right. When I said I secured a second division he said, ‘give me your hand then.’ Now that I come to think of it, I realized that according to my teacher’s evaluation I’m a ‘third divisioner.’ In fact I was a ‘third divisioner’ throughout my school days, I barely passed my annual promotion examination and if I did it was always a simple pass. I think what is important is not the degree, but the information, the knowledge one garners and more importantly how one makes use of what one has learned throughout the school and college days and even now. What use are those credentials when one is not making use of what one has learned?
I believe the goal of education is to equip the youth with the ability to face the challenges of life and to bring change to society. In fact we are what we are now because the generation before us had struggled to bring this change that we now enjoy. The role of education is to make young people understand they are important and that they have the potential to help bring change at least around where they live. Recently two young ladies who are third year BSW students of St. Edmund’s College visited me. They requested that I come to speak at the environment awareness programme and tree plantation programme they organized as part of their community work. They sought my advice to suggest names of authorities or NGOs that can financially support their programme. I suggested that they approach cement companies and convince them they need to fund the programme as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment. The two young ladies were delighted with the suggestions which gave them the confidence to share more information with me. They started telling me how they enjoyed their community field work which is part of their studies. They chose Mynso in Jaintia hills as the village for their community project and they had rented a house in village. They visit the village every week-end and work with the community. They have also helped organize eye check-up camps in the village and now they are planning to organize environment awareness and tree plantation programmes.
I was already happy with what these 5 or 6 BSW students of St. Edmunds College have achieved and the change they have been able to bring within the community they work with. But the most important thing is that the experience in the village has changed them. They said they were very sad at the sorry state of education in the village and they plan to do something about it. They told me they want to make a video documentary to bring to light the plight of the people in the village. I asked them how they plan to do it. They said there are two institutes with mass media department in Shillong and so they would rope in some of those mass media students to jointly work with them in the project. Now this is what I call real education. The students were not only transformed by what they have learned but were motivated to also transform society. They have taken the saying “Be the change you want see seriously” and hope to make Mynso a better place than when they first visited it. I wish them well.

It’s about protecting the environment

Since the incident of my being detained at the Laitumkhrah Police Station was reported in the press, one out of every ten people I meet would greet me differently. Even before enquiring about my health, which is customary practice in Khasi Pnar society, the first question that people ask me is, “What happened to the case?” Some would venture a wee bit further and ask, “Has anything happened to you after that incident?” Well, there were also letters and articles of support and my name or the unfortunate incident found mention in many articles, speeches in seminars, debates and even panel discussions and I am grateful for the generous support. But all the efforts of trying to bring to light the adverse effects of unregulated mining on the environment will be futile if instead of debating the real issue, the unfortunate incident takes precedence.
The issue is about the government ensuring sustainable use of mineral resources and protecting the environment and not about anything else. As we debate about the need to immediately enact regulatory mechanisms to regulate and monitor mining activities in the state, our environment is being destroyed day in and day out. And if the current rate and the free for all mining system that is being practiced in the state continues, many more rivers will be polluted and larger tracts of land will be in danger of becoming deserts. The threat of the earth caving in is imminent in the mining areas. The Shillong Times June 13 issue carried a report of coal being mined in the area where the famous stone bridge on the river Thlu-mu-wi near Chkentalang village stands. The Stone bridge is not only the remnant of the monolithic culture of the Khasi Pnar society which falls in the ‘mawpoon, or mawkjat’ category of the different types of monoliths that we have, but the same is under the protection of the Archeological Survey of India and a signpost to that effect is found dotted all over the place in that area. But that does not deter the coal miners in the area from mining even in the heart of an important heritage site.
The mawpun at Thlu-mu-wi is one of the many stone bridges on the ancient trail which starts from Nartiang the summer capital of the Jaintia Monarch to Jaintiapur which is the winter seat of the Kingdom and the fact that the bridge is on the Jowai-Amlarem-Dawki road and the miners still continue with the illegal activity in broad daylight is astounding to say the least. Where is the law enforcement agency in the Amlarem Sub Division? On the same day a prominent vernacular paper carried another story relating to mining and it was about the collapse of a portion of the National Highway 44. Part of the National Highway 44 in the Wapung Chnong area in front of the petrol station caved-in and the land owner immediately hired a JCB and two dumpers to fill the huge crack. Without obtaining any permission from the Executive Engineer PWD central division, Jowai or even informing the authorities concerned, the landowner adjacent to the road took it upon himself to fill the cracks on the road before anybody from the government could see it. The effort to fill the portion of the road which collapsed was to cover up for the mining that is going on under the ground horizontally and which has reached the portion of the road and caused the side of the road to cave-in.
A few days later newspapers reported the findings of the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board with regards to the mass death of fishes in the river Kynshi. The report has clearly stated that it has evidence to prove that the cause of the death of fishes in the river of West Khasi Hills District was due to the contamination from the acidic runoff from the coal mines in the area. Ironically I had predicted that the rivers in the coal mine areas of West Khasi Hills will suffer the same fate as that of the rivers in Jaintia Hills, in the same article where an FIR was filed against me, but it is sad that this happened so soon. While the government is yet to decide on the fate of the State Mining Policy, mining is being carried on in the area where there are exotic and famous caves of Meghalaya. Who will be responsible for the loss of these unique caves and cave systems some of which are yet to be properly surveyed and mapped. We should thank the Meghalaya Adventurers’Association (MAA)for mapping and photographing much of the cave systems in the state and even filming them. These photographs and films will be the only evidence of the presence of these extraordinary caves in the state that we will be able to pass on to our children!
Funnily the Dorbar Shnong has now become an expert in mining. They are now the authority to permit mining in the area under the village’s jurisdiction. Take the example of Nongtalang village which has a headman who is not even a high school graduate and whose position as the headman is only by virtue of the tradition that the Lyngdoh of the Niam Tynrai in the village will also be the headman. He along with the local committee arbitrarily decided to allow lime stone mining in the area. One wonders if the village elders have consulted any expert in area of mining and environment to arrive at a conclusion that mining will not have any adverse effects on the environment. Nongtalang is also a peculiar village in the sense that large tract of land are still owned by very few clans and they call themselves ‘the Jamindars.’ The Jamindar inherited the thick green forests from their ancestors who have kept it intact. But the present generation has decided to lease it for mining to the highest bidder. The tradition of keeping the land for the future generation has been done away with by the present generation of Jamindars and unlike their ancestors they have leased out the land without thinking of the future generation.
The absence of the mining policy is one reason that the mining in the state is in a complete mess and there is chaos everywhere. But having ineffective government agencies has only add fuel to the fire. The office of the SDO Civil Sub Division which is supposed to ensure that the law of the land prevails in the area turned a Nelson’s eye to all illegal activities going on in the mining areas in the Amlarem sub division. The miner use explosive in the mines, and the explosives are illegally procured. The question is, isn’t the office of the SDO by its act of omission also party to the illegal act?
The Chief Forest Officer of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, has also by his act of omission failed to stop the illegal cutting of trees which is a breach of the court order and thereby liable to be booked for contempt of court. The State Forest Department Jaintia hills too has not done anything to stop the clearing of large forest areas for limestone mining which is again in contravention of the National Forest Act. The Office of the SDO Civil Sub Division Amalrem Sub Division needs to put its act together and see that the law of the land prevails in the area and the government of day should see that the environment is protected.