The Church and the Secular-Legal Community

By Fabian Lyngdoh

This article is about the social situations in the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya today. The terms “church” and “religious denominations”, in this context, would apply to all Christian denominations as well as the reformed indigenous religious faith called Niam Khasi or Niam Tre under the leadership of Seng Khasi and Seiñ Raj. The nomenclature “Church” is used here simply because today the majority of Khasis are Christians.
In the past, before the advent of British rule, the Khasis lived in many traditional clan-based political communities called Raid(s). Traditional politics and religion in these communities were intertwined as political debates were always accompanied and sealed by religious rituals. Social norms and traditions were at the same time religious norms and traditions. Social affairs were also at the same time religious affairs, and political authority was also religious authority. There was therefore no idea of ​​separation between Church and State.
Religion, which included the rites of passage of each from birth to death, and the departure of the soul to the spiritual abode, was mainly the affair of the clan. Community-level religion was not concerned with the spiritual abode of the dead in heaven or hell, but concerned only with the welfare of the living in all aspects of their social and economic affairs, as well as the socio-political order of the community as a whole. Each clan had a clan religion, and each political community had a communal religion; but there was no religious organization covering the whole Khasi tribe. The social, political and religious life of the people took place only within the jurisdiction of each clan, and within each political community. Each political community had a community cemetery where the bones of the dead were buried in each clan’s religious stone cairn. In this way, the physical well-being, honor and dignity of each individual in the community was guaranteed within this traditional social structure.
This traditional socio-religious structure of Khasi society no longer exists anywhere in the Khasi and Jaintia hills today. With the emergence of the new political and economic order, and the conversion to the Christian faith, a new social configuration emerges where individuals and nuclear families take center stage, and the clan recedes into the background. The church took over the religious roles and functions of the clan, and the modern village with a village council called the dorbar shnong took over the roles and functions of the Raid (traditional political community). But unlike the Raid, the modern village with its dorbar shnong is secular in nature and based on membership of nuclear individuals and families, where the clan has no assigned role to play. Hence, this new village community is a modern replica of the raid, operating in new social situations, and has constitutional recognition as a traditional institution by the District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India .
In this new social situation, the common community religion and the common community cemetery no longer exist. The social, spiritual and natural resources that were under the control of the traditional authority of the community are transferred, by default, to the hands of the religious denominations. There have been as many cemeteries, cremation grounds and places of worship as there are religious denominations in the same village. Khasi society today is divided to a large extent by numerous religious affiliations among the people which generally discourage or even prohibit marriage between members of different religious faiths. It is not the question of faith and doctrine that has generated disputes and conflicts in the community, but it is the control of material and social resources. “Social resources” in this context means the social support, human honor and dignity of individuals and families that derive from the collective recognition of society. Even though the secular and legal community under the authority of the dorbar shnong is still there in the background, each church denomination has strong psychological and social control over all aspects of the moral, spiritual and social life of its own members. . Therefore, each village or local community is a secular legal entity, as well as a group of independent religious denominations which give rise to distinct subcultures within the village or locality.
Through weekly church meetings and worship services, people’s relationship, commitment, and allegiance are much more to their own church denominations than to the secular and legal community. But this allegiance is not so much based on the consideration of the spiritual destiny of life and death, but it is because the places of burial and cremation, the psychological support and the social resources belong not to the community secular and legal, but to church denominations. People’s rites of passage from birth to death are under the control of these religious denominations; and anyone who is not a worthy member of one of these church denominations is like a spiritual pariah, whatever position or status he holds as a member of the secular and legal community.
Every human person has an inherent need for material, psychological and spiritual support from his family and society as a whole for a respectable human existence and his personal dignity throughout his life. Ironically, the greatest of all these needs is not in his lifetime, but in his death; how to dispose of the corpse honorably and aid the soul on a happy journey to spiritual abode. It is in this death ritual that church denominations exercise complete psychological control over their members. From the time a person expires, until their burial or cremation, the secular and legal community is involved in the material side of things, but it is the particular denomination of the church that takes center stage. In some villages, even at the burial ceremony of a person who had been declared unworthy to receive the church’s liturgical burial rite, a range of church leaders would still gather at important ceremonial seats to lay stones on the deceased and his/her family members by publicly announcing to the multitude who came from far and near that the liturgical burial ceremony cannot take place since the deceased did not live the doctrinal, sacramental and liturgy of the Church. Then followed by long sermons on how to live to be worthy of an honorable liturgical funeral rite. This waste must be disposed of! No one will go to heaven simply because a liturgical funeral rite has been performed by the church, and no one will go to hell by not performing it. Jesus did not teach his disciples to put coins in the mouth of the deceased to pay the boatman to carry the soul of the deceased across the river Styx.
The liturgical ceremony is only a social honor given to the deceased for being a diligent and disciplined member of the church, but it has nothing to do with the soul’s final journey to heaven or to hell. . But, since in Khasi traditions the performance of cremation rites and the final deposit of the bones of the deceased in the clan stone cairn was the most important religious requirement in the life of every man and woman, the Khasis take this issue seriously even as Christians. Therefore, what binds most believers to the Church is not the question of sin and righteousness in life, but the fear of being denied the honorable liturgical ceremony of burial at the dead. It is on this land that there is a saying among the people of the village, “Khristan lumjingtep” (Christians for the cemetery). This is to show how much the Church has taken control of people’s lives, even as members of a secular and legal community.
We cannot deny the fact that in the absence of traditional agencies of socialization and social control, the Christian denominations and the Seng Khasi/Seiñ Raj organizations in the villages, play a great role in guiding the society. on the moral and spiritual path. However, it is also a fact that when one of the religious denominations in a village is overwhelmingly in the majority, the secular and legal community tends to be identified with the dominant religious denomination and subject everything else to various forms of discrimination. whether they are Christians or Niam Khasi/Niam Tre.
The physical security, honor and dignity of every human person, from birth to death, are above all universal human rights guaranteed by the law of the State. They are therefore also the business of the secular-legal community at the village or local community level, which no religious organization has the right to hijack and appropriate by default. Every inhabitant should have equal rights to the material and social resources of the community, regardless of belief, faith or religion. All inhabitants, whether theists or atheists, are equal members of the secular and legal community, and religious organizations should not make public statements or draw distinctions between them on the basis of creed, faith or religion. If it is necessary to do it for their own members, let the church denominations do it privately in their own circles, but not on the public platform which belongs to all, believers and non-believers.
It is necessary to strengthen the authority of the secular and legal community over material and social resources so that the unity of the people as equal members can be safeguarded, and to stop the fragmentation of the community into antagonistic groups and conflicting subcultures through the multiplicity of religions. beliefs. Therefore, it is necessary for the state government to enact laws and regulations so that each village or local community has common infrastructure and facilities such as public cemeteries, cremation grounds and social resources that are not under the control of no religious denomination, but directly under the control of the secular and legal community.


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