TRADITIONAL INSTITUTIONS (DORBAR SHNONGS) IN SHILLONG
3.2 Dorbar Shnong: Meaning and Concept
governance. The traditional political institutions are essentially based on the age-old tradition and usages.
In most states the Siem is the religious as well as the secular head, e.g. in the Cherra State, where the Siem is also lyngdoh. In Khyrim State the Siem has sacerdotal duties to perform at different religious ceremonies, especially at the time of the annual Nongkrem dance ... the Siem in matters judicial acts as a judge, the whole body of the durbar being the jury. In the olden days the Siem marched to war at the head of his army.
The Syiem as a head of the state has traditionally performed numerous functions for the welfare of the people living within the territorial limit of the state. A Syiem is always assisted by the Durbar, the composition of which of course varies from the state to state.
The traditional Khasi political organization of the dorbar can be divided into the following (War, 1998):
Ka Dorbar ka Hima Pyllun (full state Dorbar)
Ka Dorbar Raid or Dorbar ki Laiphew Shnong (Dorbar of the Thirty Villages17)
Ka Dorbar Pyllun is a small council of a group of villages or localities
Ka Dorbar Shnong (village or local dorbar)
Dorbar Kur (Clan Council)
In Khasi tradition, the clan, ka kur, is considered to be the oldest institution through which other structures of socio-political organizations emerged. All the adult male members of the clan arrived at decisions through consensus. This system of
17 ‗Thirty Villages‘ is simply a name given to denote a group of villages larger in number than Ka Dorbar
administration concerning related kin groups was later extended to the village (shnong), the commune, (raid), and finally the state (hima) (Lyngdoh, n.d.).
The Khasi traditional concept of dorbar (council) is social, political, sacred and divine. So the authority of the dorbar depends on both its political authority as an institution and on its sacred and divine authority (Lyngdoh, 2016b). The dorbar shnong is the primary unit of administration based at the locality (in the urban areas) or village level (in the rural areas) (Baruah, Dev and Sharma, 2005) and it is ethnocentric and semi- democratic in nature (Lyngdoh, 2016a).
The concept of dorbar emerged as an outcome of a social need felt by the community (AusAID, 2005). The concept of dorbar is an important part of a Khasi‘s communal life. The dorbar is closely associated with a Khasi—from his hearth to his clan, to his village, commune and even to his state (Lyngdoh, 1952). Every decision taken at the dorbar is considered sacred as the dorbar is considered to be God‘s council.
The Khasis have accorded reverence for the institution of the dorbar (Bacchiarello, 1974).
The traditional dorbar shnong was entirely autonomous, since there were no funding or personnel assistance from outside. Today dorbar shnongs are still autonomous bodies, with independent decision-making processes and implementations (War, 1998). The traditional institutions are based on customary beliefs, practices and traditions (Planning Department, Government of Meghalaya, 2009).
The Khasi society is universally recognised as having a distinct identity historically and culturally, and its traditional political institutions are also recognised by the Constitution of India through the Sixth Schedule (Lyngdoh, 2016a). The traditional institution of dorbar shnong is linked with the modern political institution of the District Council created by the Indian Constitution (Nongkynrih, 2002).
Khasi villages have enjoyed autonomy in the organization and management of their own affairs and have exercised collective control over their resources (natural and human) through the dorbar shnong. Dorbar shnongs have their jurisdiction over their residents and the natural resources within their territories (Nongkynrih, 2002).
In Meghalaya the dorbar shnong is seen as a body outside of the Constitutional framework. The dorbar shnongs do not enjoy any legal or constitutional status. Though no constitutional recognition has been accorded to them the people identify themselves with such institutions as they are rooted in society (Nongkynrih, 2015). But Lyngdoh (2015b) opines that the dorbar shnong today is not totally unconstitutional. It has an indirect constitutional recognition.
The dorbar shnong is a male-centred institution. The Khasis do not conceive the act of attending a dorbar as a matter of right but as an imposed responsibility or a compulsion (Lyngdoh, 2016a). The decision-making procedure in the general dorbar is usually through negotiations, discussions and deliberation (Baruah, Dev and Sharma, 2005). It is a political institution of the Khasis, by the Khasis, and for the Khasis only (Lyngdoh, 2016a).
The dorbar shnongs and their authority fall in line with Weber‘s (1978) idea of
‗traditional legitimacy‘ where authority is established on and rests on traditional grounds.
The dorbar shnong has the support of the Khasi inhabitants of the village or locality (Lyngdoh, 2015a). The dorbar shnong seem to be most important in the politics affecting the day to day administration and the lives of the people (Baruah, 2004).
Today most dorbar shnongs have ‗constitutions‘ that contain rules that are meant to ensure the moral and social stability of the community, which members of the locality must follow, and are usually referred to as the ―Ki Adong Shnong‖ or ―Rules of the village/locality‖ (Baruah, 2005). Residents should abide by these rules. The rules also
have quasi-structured procedures or norms about the scheme of functioning of the traditional institutions (Baruah, Dev and Sharma, 2005). E.g. the Dorbar Shnong of Laitumkhrah (a locality in the city of Shillong) has a constitution called ―Rules and Regulations Concerning the Administration of Laitumkhrah‖ which was adopted in March 1990. These rules categorically mention that they aim at maintaining peace and harmony in the locality and are meant to bring about understanding and co-operation among the residents and are binding on all members of the locality (Baruah, 2004).
As stated earlier, the present governance system in the Khasi Hills is a combination of the traditional and the modern elements. Below is a table showing some comparative attributes of the dorbar shnongs with other institutions of governance in Meghalaya:
Table 3.1: Assessment of the Dorbar Shnongs with other Institutions in Meghalaya Attributes Traditional
Autonomous District Councils
Legislative Assembly Appointment/Choice of
Date of First Constitution
--- 27 June 1952
21 January 1972
Selectors/Electors Permanent residents, males
Tribal residents and non- tribal permanent
residents, adults (over 18 years)
Residents, all adults
Member Attributes Males, clan affiliation, permanent residents
As above, and adults (25 years)
Residents, adults (25 years)
Periodicity Varies 5 years 5 years
Juridical Powers to Frame Laws and Rules
Yes Yes Yes
Codified Rules No (except few) Yes Yes
Electoral Apparatus Rare District Council Affairs Department
Election Commission Source: Rao et al., (2013)
Lyngdoh (2016a) opines that the dorbar shnong is semi-traditional; it is traditional in spirit, but modern in structure and composition. The executive committee of the dorbar shnong is a modern governing body bearing a modern name. The traditional concept of ki tymmen shnong (village elders) got transformed into that of the executive committee. The functionaries of the executive committee of the dorbar shnong like the secretary, treasurer and executive members are all modern inventions to suit new circumstances and requirements in the modern society.
The dorbar shnong is a politically neutral village / local council and its office bearers have no collective affiliation to any political party. Thus political parties and party politics have not been able to influence the functioning of the dorbar shnong to a large extent (Lyngdoh, n.d). In the dorbar shnong there is no question of party politics in the case of elections. The dorbar shnong elects the rangbah shnong (headman of the village or locality). In many cases if the locality is big, some rangbah dongs18 (area elders or leaders) help the rangbah shnong. There are also committee members and other responsible people with duties and responsibilities (War, 1998). The decision-making process in the dorbar shnong is that for all practical purposes it is the rangbah shnong who performs the quotidian functions of governance. He asserts immense influence that motivates the decisions of the dorbar (Baruah, 2005).