Magazine 2015
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Steven Lobo  
The Khasis are an indigenous or tribal people, the majority of whom live in the State of Meghalaya in North  
East India, with small populations in neighbouring Assam, and in parts of Bangladesh. They are granted  
the status of Scheduled Tribe. A minority of the population follows their tribal religion, whereas the rest  
belong to Roman Catholicism, different sects of Christianity, and very few are Muslims. The total Khasi  
population is estimated at 1.2 million, of which over 1.1 million live in Meghalaya, and in Assam there are  
about 13,000, and around 12,500 in Bangladesh. The Khasis have a matrilineal and matrilocal society.  
Despite its matriliny, Khasi society cannot be said to be matriarchal. This paper covers the Khasis in the  
Barak Valley region of Assam. The main city of the valley is Silchar. The valley consists of Cachar,  
Karimganj and Hailakandi districts. The official language of the place is Bengali. These people do not  
follow the traditional customs of the Khasis of Meghalaya, but they have absorbed the cultures of their  
surroundings in which they stay. Their economy depends on beetle leaf, beetle nut, and nowadays rubber  
plantations. They are poverty ridden with no other means for survival and depend on other means of  
employment. The method followed for this paper is library research and interviews with persons who live  
in the area and have closely interacted with the community. It is found that the community has been  
exploited due to various circumstances. Their problems are unique and need to be addressed by society  
as well as the government.  
Key Words : Barak Valley, exploitation, Khasi, Tribe.  
The current study has been undertaken in order to understand the problems faced by the Khasis who live  
in the Barak Valley. The literature that has been used has mainly concentrated on the tribal life, culture,  
history, and all other aspects of tribal life. There is no literature available specifically with reference to the  
Khasis of the Barak Valley, evidently because they live in the deep interiors of the forests of this region  
and they are remotely accessible. The objective of this study is to highlight and dwell on the problems  
faced by this group of citizens who have been ignored for quite some time. They have been exploited to  
the extent that they do not even have a hand to mouth existence. Their relatives who live in Meghalaya  
have a much better lifestyle which is in complete contrast to the life that these Khasis live! The Methodology  
followed is that of literature available and from discussion with a priest who has been living in the area for  
the past 25 years. The limitations of research in this field is that there is no literature available on the life  
of these people. Hence, it is a sincere effort to understand the life of these people.  
Anthropologists have taken the word ‘tribe’ from its ordinary usage, which had different meanings. Generally,  
it meant people who were primitive, living in a backward area and did not know how to write. Sometimes  
it was synonymous with the term ‘race’. In fact there was no precise meaning given to the term ‘tribe’  
Thakur and Thakur, 1994). Theoretically, a tribe is an ideal State, a self contained unit. It is a society in  
itself, i.e. a collection of individuals sharing a common culture. The tribe also has a cultural boundary  
which is less well-defined. Though it is a society based upon kinship, social stratification is absent  
(Thakur and Thakur, 1994).  
In India today hardly any of the tribes exist as a separate society. They have been absorbed in varying  
degrees into the wider society of India. The process of absorption has been going on for centuries. In  
fact, no tribe in India today has a completely separate political boundary (Thakur and Thakur, 1994).  
There were two congruent processes at work in the country, both at the larger and local levels. Currents  
of ideology swept across the country right from the ancient period onwards, and, there were also the  
formations, ways of life and aspects of material culture, which were local in their dimensions. So, when  
we refer to the mainstream of Indian society and culture, we are recognizing ideologically, the dual  
aspect of our society. The recognition is of the twin processes of uniformity and unity on the one hand,  
and, a larger canvas of diversity and plurality on the other, embedded in our existence as a people, as  
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a country. Hence, in this broad historical and civilizational context, tribes are relatively isolated and  
backward communities of our country (Singh, 2008).  
Tribals in India are closely associated with forests. There are some, who, even today spend the greater  
part of their lives in the proximity of trees. It is for this reason that the aboriginals were often referred to  
as ‘jangali’. This term today stands for ‘uncouth’ or ‘uncivilized’. Literally, it meant ‘forest dweller’. Tribal  
communities living in settlements surrounded by forests considered the woods as their own. In Northeast  
India there are tribes who claim forest tracts as clan or village property, having clearly defined boundaries.  
Here, only the members of the clan or village in question are allowed to hunt or cut firewood (Fürer-  
Haimendorf, 1985).  
The green revolution brought with it tremendous changes. A certain type of modernization in outlook  
appeared in all aspects of tribal life. Whereas at one time tribals could be easily distinguished by their  
food habits, dressing patterns and house constructions, now these distinctions are no more observable.  
They are also found nowadays in restaurants, cinema houses, beauty parlours and not just that, even  
their dressing style has changed! Thus, the tribals have established their links with the region, state and  
nation (Jain, 2001). Consumerism and mass culture too have brought about significant changes in the  
lifestyle of tribals. In the past, they had limited or no consumerism. Most of their needs were fulfilled  
through their own production, through the weekly market. No artificial needs were created! But  
globalization created a large number of needs through the new communication technologies, particularly  
the visual media. Consumerism is thus pushed forward through the new techniques of media (Jain,  
The economy of the northeastern region is rural-area based and dominated by tea, oil and timber and  
have large inaccessible areas with sparse population and inadequate infrastructure. Industries do not  
have a significant impact on the economic growth of the region. Though there has been sufficient  
financial allocation, the pace of development has been far from satisfactory. To make matters worse, the  
pressure of population has nullified economic development. The major causes of economic imbalances  
are due to increasing demand for forest resources to meet the basic necessities of food, fuel and fodder  
(Guha & Chattopadhyay, 2006). Many analysts have blamed this current environmental crisis on poverty-  
population growth linkages. The high growth rate of population has put a tremendous amount of pressure  
on availability of resources, making it responsible for environmental degradation. Seventy percent of  
this area is hilly and much of the deterioration is due to the indiscriminate felling of trees, shifting cultivation  
and mining. These people struggle to obtain their basic necessities of life from the forests for their  
survival. This brings the already scarce resources under strain thus affecting the environment. Deforestation  
has led to the overall degradation of the environment in this region. Water scarcity, a falling water table,  
soil erosion, flash floods, etc. are common, thereby deteriorating the ecology of the area (Guha &  
Chattopadhyay, 2006). The most disturbing aspect is the magnitude of problems the tribals are facing.  
There is a rapid erosion of tribal rights on land, water and forest. There is a renewed demand for tribal  
autonomy and self-management of resources by communities. A large section of the tribal communities  
are being urbanized, criminalized and pauperized (Singh, 2008).  
The Khasis of Meghalaya have developed a well-formed State organization, while most of the other tribes  
have not reached anything higher than a simple form of local government. One of the most important  
elements of Khasi economy has been trade. They have been able to take advantage of the soil and  
heavy rainfall in the plateau where they live and produce a surplus, which is sold in the neighbouring  
areas. They had iron ore, limestone, steel and coal in abundance. The loss of some of these resources  
has been amply made up by them by developing their fruit and vegetable gardens. This has been  
accelerated in recent years through road transport (Bose, 1972).  
The Khasi kingdom originally consisted of 25 independent Khasi chiefdoms in the mid-sixteenth century.  
Around 1815, the Khasi states came under the British rule. There were very limited cultural relations  
between the Khasi states prior to the British rule. By 1765 the Khasi kingdom of Meghalaya became an  
integral part of the British empire, when the Sylhet markets were considered a part of the economy of the  
British. Around 1790, there were raids in the Khasi regions and the British fortified the foothills and  
stopped trading of the Khasi goods in the markets of Sylhet. The enmity between the Khasis and British  
ended when a road was constructed in 1837 to connect Kolkata with the Brahmaputra Valley across the  
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state of Nongkhaw. Some treaties were signed between the two which allowed the Khasis autonomy and  
freedom from paying taxes to the British. Gradually Shillong was declared the capital of Assam. By  
947, an autonomous tribal region was established, which was answerable to the governor of Assam,  
who functioned like an agent of the President of India. Currently the Khasis form a predominant tribe in  
Meghalaya, which is their own state (  
The total Khasi population is estimated to be 1.2 million people. According to the 2001 Census of India,  
over 1.1 million Khasis lived in Meghalaya. In Assam their population reached 13,000. The Census of  
Bangladesh enumerated 12,280 Khasis for the whole country in 1991. Generally, there are four sub-  
tribes of Khasis, namely, Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi and War. Racially, they are very similar to the Indo-  
Chinese tribes but are by no means pure mongoloid. They may have intermarried with another race  
predominantly the Austric race. Intermarriage with people of Aryan descent is a recent phenomenon.  
They are descendants of Mon-Khmer speakers who migrated from Yunnan to Meghalaya, and thus they  
are of East Asian origin. Their skin colour varies from light brown to light yellow. They have high nasal  
bridges and aquiline noses. Their looks range from those of typical East Asian to Central Asian or even  
The Khasis speak of a family of great-grand children of one great-grand mother (four generations). Clans  
trace descent from an ancestress (grand mother). She is revered greatly as the clan originates from her.  
Below this division is a sub clan and the family, usually made up of a grandmother, her daughters, and  
her daughters’ children. Together this comprises of one house. The descent of a Khasi family is traced  
through the mother, but the father plays an important role in the material and mental life of the family.  
The Khasis are monogamous. Their social organization does not favour other forms of marriage; therefore  
quite rarely does one find deviations from this norm. Marriage is purely a civil contract. Males are  
between the ages of 18 and 35 when they marry, while women’s ages range from 13 to 18. Although  
parentally arranged marriages do occur, this is not a preferred form. Young men and women are permitted  
considerable freedom in the choice of mates and in premarital sexual relations. Once a man has selected  
his desired spouse, he reports his choice to his parents. They then secure the services of a male relative  
to make the arrangements with the female’s family, if the man’s parents agree with his choice. The  
parents of the woman ascertain her wishes and if she agrees to the arrangement her parents check to  
make certain that the man to be wed is not a member of their clan. If this is satisfactory, then omens are  
taken. If the omens are favourable, then a wedding date is set, but if the omens are negative, then  
wedding plans are abandoned. According to Khasi laws, a woman cannot be forced into marriage, she  
owns the children and properties. A woman may end a marriage at her will with no objection from her  
There are two types of marriages, the first being marriage to an heiress, the second being to a non-  
heiress. Khasi men prefer to marry a non-heiress because it will allow them to form independent family  
units somewhat immune to pressures from the wife’s kin. A Khasi man returns to his house upon the  
death of his wife, if she is an heiress. If she is not an heiress, he may remain with his children if they are  
not too young and if he plans to marry his wife’s younger sister. Marriage to a deceased wife’s elder  
sister is prohibited ( In a Khasi  
marriage it is usual for the husband to live with his wife in his mother-in-law’s house. He does not take his  
wife home. Whatever the wife earns is meant for her mother’s house, which is expected to support the  
entire family. If a man marries a woman of a particular clan his children take the title of that clan therefore  
there is no illegitimate child in Khasi society as the children take their mother’s title. Divorce is frequent  
and its procedure is simple. The Khasis permit divorce for reasons of adultery, barrenness and  
incompatibility of temperament, but the separation can take place only after mutual consent. In some  
cases, the party desiring the dissolution may have to pay compensation to the other party. There is a  
possibility of remarriage between two such people who have separated by divorce. The divorce has to  
be a public ceremony. The mother is allowed to keep the children after divorce (Sahu, 2002).  
The Khasi society is a matrilineal society. When most states of India are busy shunning the girl child by  
committing female feticide, participating in bride burning, demanding dowry or in short persecuting the  
weaker sex, Meghalaya is the only state that is holding a flame, a beacon of hope, by putting the  
weaker sex on a strong pedestal of society. This is the state where woman power is at its peak. Although  
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the youngest daughter is the custodian of the family property, she can make no decision regarding  
property and other major issues without the consent of her maternal uncles. The inheritance of real  
property goes to the youngest daughter of the deceased mother and upon the youngest daughter’s  
death in turn to her youngest daughter. Other daughters are entitled to a smaller share of the inheritance  
of their mother, but the largest share goes to the youngest daughter. When the mother has no daughters,  
the inheritance goes to her sister’s youngest daughter. If the sister has no daughters, then the mother’s  
sisters and their female kin receive the inheritance. Men are prohibited from inheriting real property. All  
property acquired by a man before marriage belongs to his mother. Property acquired by him after  
marriage belongs to his wife and children. Women do not participate in administration, legislation and  
judiciary in the traditional set up. Christian conversion has had and continues to have a deleterious effect  
on the Khasi system of inheritance.  
The Khasis speak a Mon-Khmer Language (belonging to the Austro-Asiatic family). Khasi forms a link  
between related languages in central India and the Mon-Khmer languages of Southeast Asia. The earliest  
written literary reference to the Khasis is to be found in Sankardeva’s Assamese paraphrase of Bhagavata  
Purana composed around A.D.1500. Dance and music form an integral part of Khasi life. Every festival  
and ceremony from birth to death is enriched with music and dance. The ‘phawar’ is one of the basic  
forms of Khasi music. It is more of a chant than a song, and is often composed on the spot, to suit the  
occasion. Other forms of song include ballads and verses on the past, the exploits of legendary heroes,  
laments for martyrs. Flutes and drums of various types are used. The drum not only provides the beat  
for the festival but is also used to invite people to the event. Other musical instruments like wooden  
pipes, metal cymbals, and guitars are also used by them.  
Of all the deities in the Khasi pantheon, the unnamed God and Goddess are the most important. The  
God is characterized as powerful and merciful, yet also passive; the Goddess is closer to the individual.  
Divination by reading eggshells and entrails is practiced. Sacrifice is performed to explain and remedy  
misfortune. The Khasi also believe in demons, omens in nature and in dreams, and mystic numbers and  
colours. Ceremonies addressed to the ancestors take place during life crises, marriage, divorce, etc.  
Many chiefdoms also have a state religion, in which the Pombland ceremony takes place over a year to  
secure the blessing of the ancestors for the entire chiefdom. Many foreign missionaries have been active  
among the Khasis, with great success. The Calvinistic Methodist missionaries were the first to establish  
themselves among the Khasis in 1832; Unitarians, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, and others followed.  
At present more than 80% of the Khasis are Christians.  
The Khasi villages are situated below hill summits to avoid strong winds. Their houses are built in close  
proximity to one another. In addition to individual houses, family tombs and memorial stones called  
mawbynna are located within their territory. There is no internal division of the village based on wealth;  
rich and poor live side by side. Sacred groves are located near the Village between the brow of the hill  
and the leeward side, where the village’s tutelary deity is worshipped. Pigs wander freely through a  
village, and some villages also feature potato gardens protected by dry dikes and hedges. Narrow  
streets connect houses and stone steps lead up to individual houses. The upper portion of a Khasi  
village may be as much as 100 metres higher in elevation than the lower portion. The typical Khasi  
house is a shell-shaped building with three rooms: a porch for storage, the central room for cooking and  
sitting and the inner room for sleeping. The homes of wealthy Khasis are more modern, having iron  
roofs, chimneys, glass windows, and doors. Some have European-style homes and furniture. A market  
place is located outside a Khasi village (close to memorial stones, by a river or under a group of trees,  
depending on the region). In every village, the following places can be found: cremation grounds, tree  
groves, a market place, the home of the village priest, and the home of the chief, if he lives in that village.  
Today, Christian churches, government and social welfare buildings, and schools are also part of the  
In traditional Khasi medical practice magico-religious means are used to prevent and treat sickness. The  
only indigenous drugs used are chiretta and wormwood. Native medical specialists are not present.  
Generally illness is believed to be caused by one or more spirits as a result of a human act of omission.  
Health, within this system, can be restored only by the propitiation of the spirits or, if the spirits are not  
able to be appeased, by calling on other spirits for assistance. Divination is done by breaking an egg  
and “reading” the resulting signs. In Khasi eschatology, those who die and have proper funeral ceremonies  
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performed on their behalf go to the house (or garden) of God, which is filled with betel-palm groves.  
Here they enjoy a state of endless bliss. Those who do not receive proper burial are believed to roam the  
earth in the form of animals, birds and insects. This ideal of soul transmigration is believed to have been  
borrowed from Hindu theology. Unlike Christian eschatology, that of the Khasi is not characterized by a  
belief in any form of eternal punishment after death. According to Bro. Shaining, (who was born in  
Jakhong village in the West Khasi hills in Meghalaya, is one among 4 brothers and one sister. He joined  
the Jesuits immediately after his SSC at the age of 17. He completed his B.Com from St. Aloysius  
College, Mangalore. Currently he is studying Philosophy at the Papal Seminary in Pune.) traditionally  
cremation was done but now burial is the procedure being followed. In rural Khasi areas, cremation is  
not allowed. They may bury the body for three months and then cremate the body. This is because they  
believe that children who have small pox will die if the body is burnt. During a burial betel nuts and betel  
leaves are kept so that the person may enjoy eternal bliss in heaven. He/she will continue to enjoy  
eternal bliss in heaven.  
As for the land ownership there are four kinds of public land: crown lands, priestly lands, village lands for  
the production of thatching grass, firewood, etc., and sacred groves. There are two types of private  
land: land owned by a clan and land owned by families or acquired. Ancestral land must always be  
owned by a woman. Men may cultivate the land, but the produce must be carried to the house of the  
mother who divides it among the members of her family. Usually, if a man obtains land, upon his death  
it is inherited by his mother (i.e. if he is unmarried). There is however, a provision made for a man to will  
land acquired after marriage to his children.  
Men clear land, perform jhum agriculture, handle cattle, and engage in metal working and wood working.  
Women weave cloth, act as vendors in the market, and are responsible in large part for the socialization  
of children. Women are credited with being the growers of provisions sold at the market. Men also  
participate in market activities by selling articles which they manufacture and produce (e.g. ironwork),  
raise (e.g. sheep, goats), or catch (e.g. birds). They also bring provisions to women at market and  
exercise some degree of control over the market by acting as accountants. A husband may be responsible  
to his own family (by working the fields for his wife) and at the same time keep his sister’s mercantile  
accounts. A woman’s uncle, brother, or son may function in a similar capacity on her behalf, though  
there is more likely to be the case if the woman’s business is on a large scale.  
The village is the basic unit of political organization. An assembly of adult males from the village, and the  
headman elected by this assembly govern the village. The 25 Khasi chiefdoms, or states, probably  
arose from the voluntary association of villages. Because villages readily transfer their allegiance from  
one chief to another, chiefdoms are not territorial entities. The Khasi state system arose originally from  
the voluntary association of villages or groups thereof. The head of the state is the chief. He has limited  
monarchical powers. He may perform certain acts without the approval of his executive council over  
which he presides. He also possesses judicial powers. Those who sit on the council are called mantris.  
These individuals actually manage the state. In most states the chief is the religious and secular head of  
the state. He conducts certain public religious ceremonies, consults oracles and acts as a judge in legal  
cases, and in times past was also the literal head of the army in battle. In some states the chief was  
elected. The British tried to impose this system of election on all the other states, but they could not  
achieve much in this matter. A successor to the chief is always through the female side. A new chief is  
elected from a chief’s family by an electoral body that may be composed of representatives from certain  
priestly and non-priestly clans, village headmen, and market supervisors. Market tolls, fines and licenses  
to distill rice whisky provide revenue for the chief. Lineages are classed as either noble, commoner or  
servant. The majority of the people are commoners. A few servant lineages remain, and the people  
belonging to these lineages must perform certain duties in the chief’s household. The positions of state  
and village priest and the chief’s councilor and elector can be filled only by members of the noble  
Interpersonal tensions, domestic disagreements, and inter-clan disputes account for the major part of  
conflict within Khasi society. Social control is maintained by clan, village, state and national authorities.  
The traditional means used to maintain order included exile, monetary fines, curses, disinheritance,  
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enforced servitude, imprisonment, capital punishment, confinement to a bamboo platform under which  
chilies are burnt, etc.  
The Khasis have a market economy based on agriculture. There are four types of land utilized for  
cultivation: forest, wet paddy land, homestead land, and high grass land. Most Khasis not only produce  
goods but also participate in trade as sellers, middlemen, etc. On the Shillong Plateau, the major field  
crops are potatoes, maize, millet, and dry rice. Paddy rice is found in parts of Jaintia. The upland  
Khasis tend house gardens of pumpkins, eggplant, sweet potatoes, etc. They engage in other subsistence  
activities such as fishing, bird snaring, hunting, and raising of goats, cattle, pigs, dogs, hens, chicken,  
ducks and bees. Markets are held in different places according to the eight-day week, but the Shillong  
market, which attracts Khasis from all over the hill areas, is open daily. The use of currency has replaced  
the barter system. Markets fulfill social as well as economic functions, by supplying recreation in the  
form of archery contests, opportunities for courtship, disseminating information, etc.  
There are few industrial arts, but those that exist are the speciality of certain villages (e.g. forging of  
knives and swords in the villages of the upland Khasis). The production of ready-made garments has  
been made possible by the introduction of the sewing machine. Cottage industries and industrial arts  
include cane and bamboo work, blacksmithing, tailoring, handloom weaving and spinning, cocoon  
rearing, lac production, stonecutting, brick making, jewelry making, pottery making, iron smelting and  
beekeeping. Manufactured good include: woven cloth, coarse cotton, randia cloth, quilts (made of  
beaten and woven tree bark), hoes, plowshares, billhooks, axe, silver work, miscellaneous implements  
of husbandry, netted bags (of pineapple fiber), pottery (made without the use of the potter’s wheel),  
mats, baskets, rope and string, gunpowder, brass cooking utensils, bows, arrows, swords, spears and  
Trade takes place between villages, with the plains areas, and between highland and lowland areas.  
Barter and currency are the media of exchange. There are local markets in addition to a large central  
market in Shillong, and a large portion of Khasi produce is exported. Within a typical Khasi market one  
may find the following for sale: bees, rice beer, rice, millet, beans, sugarcane, fish, potatoes, oranges,  
lemons, mangoes, breadfruit, pepper, bananas, cinnamon, goats, sheep, cattle and housing and cultivation  
products. Large markets, like Shillong, contain goods from foreign markets.  
Khasi tribes have traditionally grown betel leaf plants on naturally occurring trees. Bro. Shaining had an  
interesting story to tell. The Khasis grow betel leaf plants due to a myth. There was a man who was very  
rich and very kind to people. Anyone who had a problem could go to him. A particular family always  
went to him for help. One day he told them that they always came to him and he would now want to  
meet them in their house. They were a very very poor family but still invited him. When he came home  
they had nothing to give him. They went to their neighbours asking for food, firewood, etc. so that they  
could cook something for him. But the neighbours refused because they knew that this family is very  
poor and would not be able to repay them. So the man came back to his home and killed himself in the  
kitchen. So also his wife and the other members of the family. When the man who was in the living room  
realized that the family was taking too long in the kitchen, he went to investigate and found that the  
family had killed themselves. He too killed himself because they had done so because of him. When  
God saw this he felt that this was not to be so. So he created the betel nut signifying the poor man, the  
betel leaf signifying the woman and lime (chunna) to signify the rich man. God did not want people to  
die because they are poor. Betel nut, betel leaf and lime are easily available, but rice, money etc. are  
not easily available. So betel nut, betel leaf and lime are a symbol of sharing and happiness. Any  
celebration had these three items being given in abundance before and after meals. Even when there is  
death, there is betel nut, betel leaf and lime in plenty. It is because it is convenient for the people.  
Deforestation is a serious problem, whereas Khasi people living within the forests are protecting trees for  
their livelihood, including selling betel leaf, collecting fuel wood and consuming and selling fruits from  
support trees. It is a profitable yet sustainable forest production system, maintaining soil fertility, stable  
production and optimal family size, and has created employment opportunities for the people living The  
Bangladeshi emigrants own lands on the main road and small towns. They control the entire road,  
transport and communication system. They are big in number and have the support of their own people.  
In fact the law and order supports them. After the Khasis pluck beetle leaves they have to get them to the  
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within and outside the forests. It has enhanced the supply of socially required betel leaf to the local  
markets, contributed to price stability, and generated some export revenue. The government policy of  
rehabilitation of Khasi people and conservation of biodiversity has improved land-use efficiency. Khasi  
people have been gaining a legal right to use the Forest Department’s land peacefully.  
Employment opportunities have been generated. Their income has increased substantially both growing  
betel leaf on farm and homestead land as from earning daily labour wages from the Forest Department  
for production and protection of reserved forests. The farming system has been enhancing the supply of  
socially required betel leaf to the local markets and contributing to the price stability.  
The Barak Valley that we are referring to in this paper consists of three districts, namely, Cachar, Karimganj  
and Hailakandi. The place is named after the Barak River. The main city of the valley is Silchar. The  
Khasis of Barak Valley are a miserable lot, who have suffered exploitation at the hands of several sections  
of society. Their original place of habitation was Meghalaya, but some generations ago their ancestors  
settled in these regions of Assam. They are not permanently settled here and they do not have the  
feeling of belonging to this place. They are a micro minority, surrounded by Bengalis, refugees from  
Bangladesh, tea garden settlers, Manipuris, and other tribes like Halam, Chourei, Maars, Chachaaris  
and Assamese. Though they are a matriarchical society, which is strictly followed in Shillong, it is not  
followed strictly in this area. The head man of this village is mostly a man. In money matters women  
keep the money. Even the youngest daughter doesn’t follow the tradition. There are a lot of changes in  
their food habits, way of cooking, festivals, marriages, etc. They like the western culture, music, dance  
and clothes. They pick up English faster than any other medium of instruction because of the Khasi  
dialect (which borrows the Roman Script). Hindi and Bengali are relatively difficult for them to learn.  
In the Barak Valley, rainfalls from April to mid-October. Cultivation is from June onwards. Plucking of  
beetle leaves takes place in January and February. For their drinking water they depend on the streams  
that flow and wells. Their food consists of rice, vegetables, fish and meat (pork and chicken). On the  
health front, they suffer from diseases like malaria, water borne diseases like typhoid, jaundice, diarrhea,  
dysentery and tuberculosis. Some of them suffer from cancer too. They are also into vices like smoking  
and drinking. Children are malnourished because their food is not healthy. Their population is exploding.  
There are 5 to 6 children in a family. Poverty is very high among them. Most of them follow Christianity  
as their religion. Some follow the tribal religion.  
There is an inherent hatred for Bengalis because of the psychological orientation of being micro-minorities.  
They look upon others as enemies. Because they are sociologically a micro-minority group, they are a  
very shy people. They are frightened of other people as a result of which very few in their community are  
educated. Out of those who are educated, in the whole of the Barak Valley, only a handful have got  
government jobs in Assam, whereas the others have gone back to Meghalaya to work. They have been  
here for many years, occupying forest land for cultivation. They cultivate paan (Beetle leaves), for which  
trees are needed, hence, they live in the forests. Normally the headman possessed the land, others  
used to work under him. Land was never owned by them, but was given to them by the Forest Department  
for cultivation. The Forest Personnel keep harassing them by taking money from them. Recently the  
government has been giving them permanent allotment of land. Under this scheme the whole village is  
entitled to get land.  
Their only occupation is cultivation. Nowadays they plant beetle nuts also. Of late very few are involved  
in rubber cultivation. (about 2 or 3 villages). Very few of them own paddy fields. When they occupy  
hillocks, close by there are paddy fields. According to Rev. Fr. Joachim Walder, (who is a Roman  
Catholic priest who has been working in this region for the past 25 years and is associated with many of  
these villages. In fact sometimes he stays back in the villages amongst the people for days together)  
only 2 villages are cultivating paddy. Very often paan cultivation is not sufficient for their survival so they  
work as daily wage earners. They also work in the fields of others like landless labourers. Some of them  
work in shops in Shillong during the lean months, and some of them also work in coal fields there. The  
Khasis are not a self-assertive people. They do not fight back. Instead they run away if there is a big  
problem. This is because they are very few in number. They feel very insecure. There is infiltration  
across the border from Bangladesh. These people want to claim the land of the Khasis. They follow a  
strategy of staying close to the Khasis and then slowly enclosing their land and chasing them away from  
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The Bangladeshi emigrants own lands on the main road and small towns. They control the entire road,  
transport and communication system. They are big in number and have the support of their own people.  
In fact the law and order supports them. After the Khasis pluck beetle leaves they have to get them to the  
market soon because their shelf life is short. So they have to settle for whatever price they get. The  
whole economy is controlled by the Bangladeshis. The Khasis can buy food only when they have sold  
their beetle leaves. The question that arises is why don’t the Khasis sell their produce in the main market  
by themselves which will fetch them plenty of money. However, the middlemen don’t allow them to.  
These middlemen go to Mizoran and Manipur to sell the beetle leaves. They exploit about half of the  
profit. Very often the Khasis don’t even get the proper price for their produce because they are cheated  
by the Bangladeshi emigrants. They being a simple lot, they get fooled very easily.  
The Khasis do not have anyone to support them. Being an exploited lot they are relegated to the deep  
interiors where even the common man finds it difficult to go. Very often it takes hours of walking to reach  
their villages. During the rains their miseries are untold. The government does not do much to help this  
tribe. We speak today in terms of human rights and human security. If one talks to this group about  
these concepts they, perhaps, may laugh within, wondering what it ever meant! Their daily existence is  
a drudge. What we need to do is empathize with the Khasis and let everyone know of their plight.  
Singh, K. S.: “The Concept of Tribe with Special Reference to India,” in Indian Tribes and the Mainstream.  
Ed. Sukant K. Chaudhary and Soumendra M. Patnaik. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2008.  
Bose, Nirmal Kumar Some Indian Tribes. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1972.  
Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival. New Delhi: Oxford University  
Press, 1985.  
Guha, Mohua and Chattopadhyay Aparajita “Dynamics of Population, Forest and Development – A  
Linkage in the North-East,” in Land and Forest Rights of the Tribals Today, Ed. R. M. Sarkar, New Delhi:  
Serials Publications, 2006.  
Jain, P. C. Globalisation and Tribal Economy. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2001.  
Sahu, Chaturbhuj Tribes of North East India : An Ethnographic Profile. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2002.  
Thakur, Devendra and D. N. Thakur Tribal Life and Forests. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications Pvt.  
Ltd., 2009.  
Webliography :  
Mr. Steven Lobo is the Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala College,