Protecting Tribal Rights
Meghalaya tribals fighting for Constitutional provision for governance under traditional customs and traditions
As many as 25 leaders representing the Khasi states of Meghalaya had no other alternative but to go to Delhi recently to plead with the Centre to honour the commitment given to them when integrating their independent territories with India in 1947. Twenty five Khasi states and independent rulers called Syiems or Kings had initialed an agreement with the Government of India to join India after independence on the specific condition that there would be a special provision in the Constitution to protect their traditional way of life and institutions. Despite several representations over the last six and a half decades, such a provision has not been provided in the Constitution although it has been amended 94 times as on March 10, 2010, whenever it was felt necessary. These Khasi rulers have reminded the Centre once again about the Instrument of Accession and the Annexed Agreement signed by them with the Government of India in 1947. A delegation of the tribal chiefs of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo communities led by John F Kharshiing, Chairman, Grand Council of Chiefs of Meghalaya, say they see some ray of hope after the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has asked the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs to make provisions to protect their traditional rights.
The Khasi rulers entered into a treaty through the Instrument of Accession and a conditional agreement way back in 1947 seeking protection of their rights. The NCST after hearing the delegation on May 8, 2011, referred the matter to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs.
It may be recalled that the rulers, individually and collectively under the Federation of Khasi States had initialed the Instrument of Accession (IOA) making it mandatory on the part of the Government to provide special provisions for the protection of their customary and social rights and their incorporation into the Indian Constitution. It should, however be noted that the Khasi rulers had never signed any instrument on merger like many ex- princely states.
The difference between the accession of the Khasi states with the domain and the erstwhile Indian erstwhile princely states was that while the latter have merged with the neighbouring states or constituted separate states with the Indian Union by means of the Instrument of Merger and the process of proclamation, the Khasi states retained their identity within the provision of the Indian Constitution when the Instrument of Accession with the Annexed Agreement was officially accepted by the Government of India on August 17,1948. The Chairman of the Grand Council of Chiefs of Meghalaya John F Kharshiiing explained the position to media persons in Delhi recently.
They have met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BJP President Nitin Gadkari and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Ministry M Venkaiah Naidu besides Union Minister for Tribal Affairs V Kishore Chandra Deo to convey their views with supporting documents. They have reminded the Centre that the Khasi Hills have been relegated to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Rev. James Joy Nichols Roy from the state was a member of the Constituent Assembly. He is credited with the formulation of the Sixth Schedule for the welfare and rights of the tribal people but there is a Constitutional anomaly. “Although the Constituent Assembly was not to find a remedy for that, yet I must send a note of warning that the small districts of the Khasi Hills which comprise 25 native states,” Mr. Deo siad. He is on record saying that most of these had equal rights with the suzerain power in Delhi. These were asked to join the Indian Dominion in 1947. An Instrument of Accession accompanied with an agreement was executed by those chiefs and these were accepted in good faith. Their democratic traditional institutions still remain and continue to function. Therefore, the Chiefs have prayed to the Central Government for exemption of Meghalaya from the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution under which Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) have been created. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at whose initiative the two amendments to the Constitution were introduced in Parliament had assured the tribal people of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram that the states will be exempted from the provisions of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments. Recalling the commitment made by the late Prime Minister on May 15, 1989, Kharshiiing said that presently in Meghalaya there are chiefs administering their own territories variously called Syiem, Lyngdoh, Wahadadar, Sirdar, Khasi Hills Dolloi, Sirdar in Jaintia Hills and Nokma in Garo Hills .Their governance is based on a unique party - less institution where there exists no fixed term but a system for recall of all tradition of 6,500 villages in Khasi, Jaintia and Garo chiefs, clan chiefs, elders and the chiefs elected by their respective Dorbars. “We are committed to the preservation of the system which has been in existence for thousands of years,” the chiefs have told the central leaders.
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