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Critically assessing traditions: the case of Meghalaya

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In the North East Indian state of Meghalaya, the main tussle for power and control over resources seems to be between the tribal organisations that have been designated by the Constitution of India as 'traditional institutions', and the constitutionally elected bodies. In this tug-of-war it is the common citizens who suffer, and this suffering varies from being deprived of access to civic amenities, to being victims of ethnic violence. In this situation the representatives of traditional institutions, such as the dorbars, claim historical legitimacy, and present a past that has till now remained more or less exempt from critical assessment. This paper is the result of research into the traditions and traditional institutions of the Khasi in Meghalaya. It seeks to question the legitimacy of the historical claims made by these institutions. Far from having predated the emergence of the modern state, they were themselves the result of more recent institutional innovations.

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