The administrative and judicial authority in Khasi democracy is enshrined right from the hearth or ‘Rympei’ to the apex power of the State. It operates in five layers of jurisdiction: first, the family council or Dorbar Rympei ïing; second, the clan council or Dorbar Kur; third, the village council or Dorbar shnong; fourth, the territorial council or Dorbar raij; and fifth, the State council or Dorbar Hima. The apex power center, Dorbar Hima functions as the counseling center (ka sneng ka kraw), the Judicial Court, and the Legislative Assembly for every layer of operations. The first stage is always counseling and reconciliation negotiated by an elder, noble or even the Chief or Syiem. If the negotiation is complicated, then the matter is left to the wisdom of the State council of nobles and the Chief for settlement. The Khasi Syiem is not a feudal head like a king and an emperor, he is the ancestral head of a traditional and democratic council of nobles ruling over the citizens of the State. Perhaps, the perception of the Syiem as kings or emperors was influenced and impressed upon by other cultures. The Khasi people are not the subjects of the Syiem or the council of nobles. The intellectual and material properties are in possession of the community and any individual or group of individuals is not entitled to manage or control without the concurrence of the Dorbar. The position of the Syiem is not the status or the rank, but the obligation over the citizens. The Khasi term of U Syiem U Kmie (literally, the chief the mother) or U Syiem U Mraw (literally, the chief the slave) is not of dual significance or derogatory expression; it means that the Syiem is like the mother to his children and is as ordinary as any citizen in the State, without any special status. In governance, the Dorbar Hima is the party-less democratic institution for political and judicial administration. The strings of civil administration percolate from the family or domestic council to the clan council to the village council, to the territorial council, and finally the State Council. The law is legislated and the verdict is pronounced by the State Council or Dorbar hima.
Therefore, the ancient knowledge of our ancestors has been effective since the olden days, and is still ideal and relevant today, because of the dynamics of the system, which permit us to cope with the emerging trend through the ages. Hence, the static and rigid perception of the tradition will create a barrier in society. Earlier, Khasi villages were confined within the clan and all social and civic matters were dealt with inside the particular village. When the situation demands a conglomerate of various clans to constitute the community settlement, every clan is involved in the affairs of the village. This situation occurred in the erstwhile Hima Shyllong, where even religious matters were adjusted to social convenience.
Prior to the inception of the Hima Shyllong, the territory was known as Raij Sawkher Lailyngdoh, literally meaning the land of four nobles and three priests. Initially, the territory was constituted of four nobles and three priests as the apex council. The four nobles are the Basan Nongkseh, Basan Nongumlong, Basan Swer, and Basan Synrem; later, additional nobles or Myntri were appointed from the different clans of specific areas to assist in administration. The three priests are Lyngdoh Nongkrem, Lyngdoh Mylliem, and Lyngdoh Mulieh Mushai; later the Raij Mulieh Mushai was bifurcated and appointed separate priests for Mulieh and Mushai. In the Raij Nongkrem, the territory was afterward subdivided into three segments under Lyngdoh Nongkrem, Lyngdoh Nongbri , and Lyngdoh Nongkynrih representing their respective clan from specific regions. Even the Karbi community from neighbouring areas, which pledge allegiance to the Syiem were given privileges in both social and religious affairs over their area of settlement, but the land still belongs to the original clan. There are syiem raij and bongthai in Bhoi region from Karbi community who assimilate as subjects and are involved in the annual State religious ceremony of the royal clan, known as Pom Blang Hima. The Karbi priests or Bongthai from different areas of the Bhoi region actively participated in the ceremony.
The consecutive imbroglio in the region is because the few dominant migrant communities asserted social and political rights and privileges with confrontation mode. It may be noted that in Jaiñtia Hills, Hinduism is patronised by the erstwhile Chief of Jaiñtiapur and the Mandir located at Nartiang village is a testimony to the integration process with the local people that prevailed till today. The Hindu rituals are adapted to the local practices in certain areas, and the spiritual head, called Bamon from the Pnar community is devotedly involved in the religious ceremony.
The consequences of the resistance movement of the Khasi people against alien intrusion since the Nongkhlaw massacre of 1829, the Jaintia freedom struggle of 1860, and the subsequent upheavals of British imperial and colonial supremacy, which led to the partition of India in 1947, followed by the Ahom hegemony that led to the Hill State movement in early 1960, the burden of rehabilitation of refugees during the post-Pakistan War of 1971, the turbulence of communal conflicts of 1979, 1987, which led to the emergence of insurgency and thereafter the rise of militancy till the mid-2000, the successive socio-political agitations by pressure groups until the recent Sweepers’ colony entanglement that escalated with the interference of certain mainland forces have devastated the indigenous community to a large extent.
Throughout this consecutive political turmoil and social disparity that have taken place at every stage of occurrence, the essence of Khasi traditional council through the traditional authority of the Dorbar Hima, Dorbar Raij and Dorbar Shnong have contained several social and political disorders, and created tremendous impact upon the society. However, in recent years, the transformation of the locality and village councils has demoralised the ethos of the Khasi folk democratic principles and processes. The political class took advantage and made undue influence upon the local traditional authorities and contaminated the system due to their greed for wealth and power. In the process, the entire society is indulged in an unlimited desire for comforts and luxuries amidst the limited supply of emotional and material resources. The situation has gradually shaped the nature of human society in that the virtues of righteousness, sincerity and personal integrity are being replaced by wickedness, hypocrisy, and deceit. The simple and transparent administration of public justice became the sophisticated and clandestine management of lust for mammonish greed. In certain parts of the territory, there are regular occasions of arrogant display of power and pelf towards the oppressed section of the society by the headmen.
There are instances of commotion that arise after the headmen were stripped of their conventional authority without legal endorsement, and that is to be absolutely blamed on various cases of misused of their authority and usually refrained from taking the serious matter to the council if there are any. The process of election of headmen is also not proper, the people are apprehensive of the individual discretion that may encourage nepotism. Although the system of the Dorbar by consensus decision is upheld by the people; however, it may not be relevant any longer with the contemporary situation. Therefore, there is a need to restructure the constitutional mechanism of the Dorbar, while the founding principles are being kept abreast. There should be no distinction between men and women, majority or minority clans; the composition of the Dorbar must be chosen with people of maturity, intelligence, and uprightness. There was a time when consensus was effective and relevant, but in the present scenario, the headcount or secret ballot system could be more appropriate to allow an independent choice of every citizen. It is the prerogative of the elector to decide on the degree of maturity, intelligence, and uprightness in the character of a leader. Perhaps, the consensus is relevant only at the household level. The practice can be maintained with the traditional process of selecting a representative from the household, the village or locality, the District Council, and the State legislature. The other aspects of clan affiliation and ancestry may be preserved as the cultural and literary heritage, and allow the ancient system to cope and gradually take its own course to change and absorb the current situation.
It is obvious that it is difficult to bind together the variation of intellectual people in a community. Perhaps, magnanimity, humility, and sincerity to the cause may produce leaders of substance. Therefore, the people must cherish the role of Larsing Khyriem, Syiem Bormanik, and a few others; even in this modern era, few righteous leaders faced severe difficulties to survive in the fight against the coterie of corrupt and power-hungry elements. Personalities like the late B B Lyngdoh, the late E K Mawlong, the late Thranghok Rangad, the late R G Lyngdoh and a few others have tasted the bitterness of this journey in public service.