The second amendment of the Khasi Social Custom of Lineage bill came with a force that destabilised the “Khasi identity” that I have come to accept as my own. Growing up, I was simply told that it is my blood that gives me the right to this identity. This is, however, far from the truth.
My paternal grandfather was an “Ao” from Nagaland. The last name I inherited by virtue of the matrilineal system belongs to the “Pnar” ancestors who, at some point in time, migrated to the “Khasi hills”. The genetic history of my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather could be just as or more complicated. My blood then, is definitely not purely “Khasi”.
However, despite this impurity, I was raised to believe that I am a “Khasi”. As a child, being “Khasi” meant that I lived and grew up with other people who also believe that they are “Khasi”, it meant that I have been given the tradition shared by the people who collectively (and proudly) refer to it as the “Khasi Tradition”, and it also meant that I speak the common language i.e. “Khasi”.
However, as I make “Khasi-ness” my own, my belongingness in the “Khasi space” was always interrogated by the nerve I had/have to exist in this space while bearing the face of an outsider. But this also begs the question, is there an identifiable “Khasi look”? And if such a thing exist, does it mean that all those who do not come close to bearing such a look are “not Khasi”? Despite my limited knowledge, I know that there are many people who call themselves “Khasi”, not all of them have distinguishing features that qualifies them as looking “Khasi” enough (or not).
However, there exist others who claim that it is behaviour (which isn’t really constant) or clothes (maybe?) or language (anyone can learn a language) that gives a “Khasi” away. Honestly, I believe that identifying a “Khasi” is much more complex than this. And should we somehow identify another person who calls herself/himself a “Khasi”, the burden of determining their genetic history begins (should we want to engage in the impossible task of accurately ascertaining their “Khasi-ness”, as implied by the Lineage Bill).
DNA tests would suggest a truly pure “Khasi” as an impossibility, giving how people constantly mix with each other through migration, immigration and so on. This makes “Khasi” an abstract, a notion we built in our minds that may somehow, find a place in our hearts (figuratively, of course).
In realising this, one finds that “Khasi-ness” as defined by the “Khasi jingoists”/ “Khla Wait Ka Ri” makes it corrupted, toxic and deplorable. To them, “Khasi-ness” attains a divine status that further implies the delusional belief of “Khasi” as a superior race. For these Khla Wait to sustain the delusional superiority in being “Khasi”, it almost seems necessary to instil fear and hatred of the “non-Khasi” through lies, propaganda, and punishments.
Evidently, the lies and propaganda have for years been spread in private and shared spaces, we find them in the riots, the clashes, the “Khasi awakening day(s)”, the Amit Paul saga, and more recently, the amendment to the Lineage bill. Authors of criticisms and questions that do not side with the Khla Wait have mostly implied a betrayal of one’s “Khasi-ness” and therefore, a lack of the “Mynsiem Khasi”(The Khasi Spirit).
I do not know what the “Mynsiem Khasi” really is, but what has been pronounced through these riots and clashes and particularly H S Shylla’s response to critics of the lineage bill, the “Mynsiem Khasi” appears to be the spirit aligning with ideologies that are xenophobic, racist, and misogynistic. To have the “Mynsiem Khasi” is to bear support for the system of patriarchy that these Khla Wait uphold. To have the “Mynsiem Khasi” is to strengthen their fragile masculinity. To have the “Mynsiem Khasi” is to bathe in the lies and the hate that they perpetuate. My fear is that the “Mynsiem Khasi” would become (or maybe it already is) the spirit akin to ones held by Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.
In light of the above, I find that it is imperative that in the midst of these conversations around the screwed-up Lineage Bill that we reflect on what it means to be “Khasi” and further on what the “Khasi experience” is.
For a people whose history remains largely unwritten, who in our own way survived colonial rule (albeit if the colonial system has injected itself into the structure of our society), and who even in being part of the Indian State have been denied/have consciously rejected our given “Indian-ness”, perhaps “Khasi” becomes a resolution, a cry of a people to be unapologetically their own. But if this is so, then “Khasi” needs to further be reimagined and redefined in order for “Khasi-ness” to mean an active rejection of the barriers and the chains that the Khla Wait have devised. Thus, in claiming one’s “Khasi-ness”, I or anyone should not have to engage in/contribute to a system of suppression, oppression and alienation.