What is it that the people of Shillong protest against? That we are taking this petty civil mediocrity and corruption as an equilibrium knowing that there are greater motivations within us to accomplish something higher, something for the betterment of the present and the future. Looking back at how Shillong society has become what it is today there is the compulsion to question whether we would do to ourselves what we have done to it.
As long as the State or more precisely, government knows that it is appointed as the trustee on behalf of the citizens and is required for their sake to regulate their different minor and major customs for their own welfare, it will most probably always decide to preserve some customs and do away with others and among the customs that it will always preserve one stands out…the institution of the Rangbah Shnong (RS) or Headman.
There can be no denying that the institution of the RS has been diluted with the coming of a democratically elected government and regrettably the people wise in the old customs are dying out fast which we can ill afford to lose. Customs appeal to the stomach of the people in times of hunger as much as religion appeases the soul at times of loss and mistrust.
The RS has the great ability to alleviate the people’s sufferings and misfortunes while maintaining an acceptable authority – the RS is looked upon as a source of succor and strength and hope to each and every member of the locality he represents. Wherever there are coincidental failings in a society that catch the eye of the citizens it is our Legislators who should implement remedies, but when our Legislators are in it for themselves only our misery is compounded: fortunately we still have the RS.
In a way we are somewhat fortunate that with the present government we still have a Chief Minister and a bureaucracy that seeks to involve the RS to stem the drastic decline of life in Shillong. There are numerous wrongs that the government is wary of and in all these aberrations the government believes the RS can play a very constructive role.
Incidentally, in a Government-RS meeting on the 13th of Oct 2023, it was pointed out that the problem with Shillong exists essentially because Shillong has become an extremely cosmopolitan city giving rise to the need of conflicting interests in the way the city must be administered. Cosmopolitanism has brought with it better opportunities to buy and sell goods and the sale of goods is growing at a tremendous pace, and so, as in the behaviour of all present day societies, there is an increase in the literary misconduct of the members of the society causing a nuisance to the citizens.
The problem is not one of preserving any particular community, but rather deriving benefits from the mixed society that has become Shillong because everyone can become as useful and as desirable an ingredient as anyone from any other community. Every community has disagreeable and even dangerous characters and it is unfair to make an exception of any community, because with the coming of the new communities new institutions emerge and they can be very helpful in times of real need; it is a matter of how we approach the problem; these new institutions could actually serve the common good of the society. And in all this mix the RS plays an important role.
By and large people have lost faith in their elected representatives; they have also lost faith in the government employees, and so they look to another source – the RS: but that does not prove the necessity of the RS, their presence could also include error, but we cannot give up, we have to arrange for ourselves a Shillong in which we can live – by positing authorities that can increase our happiness because without being able to place our faith on something/s it would be difficult to endure life in present day Shillong.
The old society that was Shillong has been denaturalised by historical and political treatment, which in its most natural form means the way we relate with others. It is not a mutilation of a society when we turn our attention to the problems a group creates, actually we are trying to learn to live to prevent and settle the problems. It is precisely here that the RS plays a catalytic role in ridding us of the misunderstandings and providing solutions to the government so that we can successfully and legitimately implement a means to mitigate and even do away with the problems. But before all this can happen, the State government must find out ways to win over the RS, even the recalcitrant among them, because it needs the wide appeal they possess. The inputs and outputs of the RS at most times, represent quite a different interest altogether from that of the government, for very obvious reasons.
In the final analysis, the absolute tutelary or guardianship of the government and the careful intervention of the institution of the Rangbah Shnongs must necessarily go hand in hand if life is to be made more beautiful and more profound in Shillong. It is a matter of a presumption to those that are elected to govern that they benefit when they collaborate with the traditional heads, and must not behave like they are superior just because they are using the institution of the traditional heads as a tool, that would be the worst scenario we could conjure.
The government and the traditional heads must be open-minded and aware that both ultimately seek the same goals – the welfare of the citizens. Without this new passion, I mean the passion to include the RS in the administration of the State, the government would still go on; after all it has gone on without them until now, but common sense will support the advice to involve the RS, because Shillong has developed a bad reputation.
The question then remains how and what powers should the government give to the RS? As for the RS there is an overwhelmingly pleasurable desire to be recognised as a functionary in the affairs of the government machinery, they have made that clear and they have a clearly defined sense for all those places where they could function. Ignoring their interest could cause them to become disgruntled and non cooperative, which we can’t afford. The ball is in the governments’ court. The government must take the initiative and determine the role the RS can play in each department and then lay down its idea of how to fit in the RS. From there we can make as start.