The land tenure system
in Khasi Hills is a very complex issue because land is still held according to age old traditional Khasi usages which date
from time immemorial. In fact there was no specific land tenure system in Khasi Hills, only oral institutions were followed.
No land revenues were ever collected. In cases of land disputes the Chiefs or Elders would prevail on the parties to an amicable
settlement using their relevant knowledge and reasoning by witnesses according to existing justice and words of wisdom laid
down from time immemorial for the Meiramew, (mother of earth). As the elders uphold traditional values and righteousness they
were held in high esteem and reverences, their decisions always respected and cases were adjudicated accordingly.
The age old customary
usages of land are simply classified into five broad categories, viz :-
1. Ri raid ne ri syiem
- land held by community or the Syiem/ Chief.
2. Ki ri Lyngdoh -
land held by the Lyngdoh.
3. Ki ri shnong - land
held by the village.
4. Ki law kyntang -
5. Ki ri kynti ne ri
ki briew - private land or own by community.
There are many sub-classes
of land under the above categories. The above lands are known as such, and explained in the same manner. When there were land
disputes, it was the chief, or the elders who by their elderly counsel were laways able to settle disputes. Those were the
times when the Chiefs or elders who held fast to the truth and the ground realities, coupled with their integrity in the village,
counseled the two sides along with their uncles prior to hearing, and always the dispute was settled amicably according to
age old customs and usages.
When the British came,
they faced a lot of difficulties as the land tenure system was explained to them as above, they finding extreme difficulties
in deciding any land disputes. Added to this, the pleaders of the time were all non-Khasis who did not understand much of
the traditional land tenure system and as such they could never satisfies the two parties in dispute.
The Khasi National Dorbar Legacy
The Khasi elite of
the time, i.e. in early 1920 A. D. saw the deficiencies and lack of written documents and thought it expedient to find out
and examine the land system by putting its provisions in black and white and to explain them publicly to the Khasi people.
They founded the Khasi National Dorbar on 6th Sept. 1923, and in the Dorbar that met on 6th, 7th and 8th November, 1929, formulated
and published a sort of white paper explaining about the land system as follows. The following are the excerpts from the book
by J. M. Phira IAS (Retd.).
"Land means any land
used or unused, stone, forest, sand, water, river, a land cultivated or not, stone, sand mineral exploited or not. All types
of land have their own boundaries" it goes on the explain the following types of land :
1. Ri Kynti - land
owned by a private landowner, a purtenance
2. Ri Seng - land by
3. Ri Nongtymmen -
land got by inheritance from the mother, the mother-in-law etc. This type of land includes Ri Kur, Ri Shyieng, Ri Iing, Ri
4. Ri Shnong - land
belongs to the people of the village.
5. Ka Raid - It is
a village land but under the administration of the Raid consisting of all elected/nominated or heriditary elders. Ri raid
includes ri shnat ri kuna.
6. Ri Khain or Ri Duwar
- a land founded and established by several clans.
7. Ri Lyngdoh - The
land owns by a Lyngdoh clan which includes the forest holds or retain by the Lyngdoh clan.
8. Ri bam Syiem - literally
mean the land for Syiem to cultivate. It is a land set apart for the Syiem clan.
9. Ri Syiem - These
lands are three types, (a) Ri Kynti, set apart for the Syiem, Myntri and Basan. (b) A land set apart for the Syiem clan. (c)
A land for all to use.
10. Law Kyntang - (Sacred
forest) set apart for use of religious rites.
11. Law adong - Prohibited
forest set apart for use of the village.
12. Law Lyngdoh - Prohibited
forest used as religious forest.
13. Ri Iapduh - The
land where the owners have since been deceased and there is no one to inherit.
14. Ri raid Kur - A
land of the clan who have equal rights over land.
(U Khasi mynta bad
ki Riti Tynrai - by J. M. Phira, IAS (Retd.) page 8-9, 1991 Edition)Of the 14 classes of land, the Dorbar explained in details
the rules and regulation about land holding, sale and purchase. The Dorbar also explained about the power of the village,
Raid, Hima over land holdings.
The British Legacy
In 1923 and the years
that followed, land disputes or land cases were given to Khasi Magistrates to adjudicate. But when the two parties were not
satisfied, they appealed to the Deputy Commissioner. As stated in the foregoing paragraph, the British and the non-tribal
people involved found it very difficult to try land cases. The then Deputy Commissioner of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Keith
Cantlie who was the Deputy Commissioner from 1930-34 decided to put the vexed land tenure system in writing. He collected
extensive informations and also got hold of the documents propounded by the Khasi National Dorbar. J.M. Phira IAS (Retd.)
in his book gave a vivid account of the works of Keith Cantlie.
"The Notes on Khasi
law by Keith Cantlie Deputy Commissioner Khasi and Jaintia Hills from 1930-34 it is the only book till today wherein the Khasi
regulations were reduced to writing. But one part of the book was not the only work of Sahep Cantlie alone, but it was the
joint efforts of some Khasi Magistrates of that time. Besides discussion with Mr. David Roy, Mr. Dohory Ropmay and Mr. Josingh
Rynjah of the Assam Civil Service, necessary entries were made from the contributions of these Khasi Magistrate who were well
versed with Khasi customs and usages. It was Mr. David Roy who wrote the Land regulation of the Khasi in this book.
According to Notes
on Khasi law by Sahep Cantlie and also the explanations of Sahep David Roy the land regulations of the Khasi which were followed
and found till 1934 are the following.
There are two types
of lands : Ri Kynti (private land) and Ri Raid (community land). The word 'Ri' means land. The word 'Kynti' the holding and
private ownership of the land. The word 'raid' means the village and the land of the village.
The rulers of Ri Khasi
are the syiem, Lyngdoh, Wahadadar, Sirdars. Besides these are the Lyngskor, the Myntris, the Elders (Basan) Dollois and the
Syiem raid (Chief of the Raid within the Hima of the Syiem).
The Lyngskor and the
Myntris are the Bakhraw (dignitories). These are the representative of the Kur (clans) who are very powerful within the Hima.
Along with these we have the Basan and the Dollois. These representatives of the clans are the electors of the Syiem (Chief)
or ruller of the Hima.
The Syiem with Bakhraw
and the Lyngdohs they form or constitute the Dorbar Hima. This is the supreme authority or court of the Hima. It is this Hima
which administers the Hima. But the most important issue is that the Hima or Dorbar could not demand or fix land revenue from
its people or any inhabitant of the Hima.
The prominent clans
and Bakhraw they elected hold the land they won by the war or through any acquisitions. These lands which they are the owners
are the proprieterial rights of the clan, and they are the private land hold by them. They have the rights to sell or buy,
to inherit or bestow inheritance. These lands are properly demarcated by recognised pillars or posts.
Ri Kynti (private lands)
and Ri raid (village land) and other classes of lands not settled with any body, fall within the direct control of the Bakhraw,
and these lands are known as 'Ka it ka Hima'. The word 'It' means the boundaries
and the extend of the land. The word 'Hima' means the place or land within the control of Syiem (Chief) or ruler. Therefore
'Ka It ka Hima' means the extend and the boundaries of the Hima.Within 'Ka It ka Hima' there are Ri Kynti lands and lands
that have not been settled or distributed, or lying waste. In these lands there are villages, homesteads occupied by people.
All the inhabitants
need land and these lands are kept for them to use for cultivation
and other use or the
land to be used by the inhabitants. These are Ri raid. As stated, there are no boundary marks for these types of lands.
Within the meaning
of these two types of lands, there are other lands with different names according to use, the regulation and the control,
and the manner by which the land was acquired.
In Ri Kynti land, there
are Ri Khurid, (land obtained by purchase) ki Ri Tymmen (land got by inheritance) and Ri Iapduh (lands where owners or land
holders have since died with no one to inherit). These lands go back to the control of the Hima.
Ri Raid land are reserved
for the use of the village. Within Ri Raid there are different types of land with different names given to them.
Ri Raid Hima means
the lands where the inhabitants of the Hima cultivate, use of the fire woods or bamboos and also for grazing.
Ri Lyngdoh is the land
where the land holders have their own Lyngdoh (Priest) for their won rituals.
Ri Raid Shnong are
the lands within the village.
Ki Ri Umsnam means
the land acquired through victories in war or land won by fighting."
(U Khasi Mynta bad
ka Riti Tynrai - J. M. Phira, IAS (Retd.) page 14-15 June 1991).
statehood in 1972, and promptly the Government of Meghalaya constituted the Land Reform Commission in 1973. The Commission
duly submitted its report on 30.11.1974. This report is the first ever formal and systematic study of the land tenure made.
According to the Commission there are 2 broad types of land viz., Ri Raid and Ri Kynti. The following are the excerpts from
Land and Revenue Regulation Manual. Introduction page 10, pertaining
to the report of this Commission.
"Ri Raid lands are
lands set apart for the community over which one persons have proprietary, heritable or transferable rights excepting the
rights of use and occupancy. Such rights revert to the community when a person ceases to occupy or use the land for a period
of three yeas consecutively. Heritable and transferable rights over Ri Raid lands accrue when the occupants has made permanent
improvement on the land. But even these rights lapse if he completely abandons the land over such a period as the Raid Durbar
deems long enough.
Ri Raid lands comprise
of Ri Shnong, Ri Shnat, Ri Kuna, Ri Lyngdoh, Ri Bam Syiem, Ri Law Kyntang, Ri Law Lyngdoh, Ri Law Niam, Ri Law Adong, Ri Law
Sang, Ri Law Sumar, Ri Bam lang, Ri Lynter, Ri leh Mukotduma, Ri Ai mon Sngewbha, Ri Phlang, Ri Baraduh, Ri Diengsai diengjin,
Ri Kynti lands are
land set apart from the time of the founding of the elaka for certain clans upon whom were bestowed the propietary, heritable
and transferable rights over such lands. They also include any part of Ri Raid lands which at later times were bestowed upon
a person or a family or clan for certain yeoman's service rendered to the elaka. The same rights devolve on Khasis to whom
such lands are disposed of by the original owners by way of sale, transfer on receipt of full consideration for the same.
Ri Kynti land is known
by different names : Ri Kur, Ri Nongtymmen, Ri Maw, Ri Seng, Ri Khain, Ri Duwat, Ri Khurid, Ri Bitor, Ri Dakhal, Ri Shyieng,
Ri Phniang, Ri Iapduh, Ri Lynter, Ri Spah, Ri Londung, Ri Pud, Ri Kut and Ri Lyngdoh, Ri Syiem, Ri Khain Raidbuh."
As already stated in
the proceeding paragraphs all lands in the Khasi Hills belongs to the people, families, the clans and the communities. Land
revenue is unknown and no land tax has ever been levied in the Khasi Hills. There are separate customs and usage that governs
the transfer alienation and succession to land. The customs of the Khasis in regard to land was respected and honoured by
the British from the day they came to these Hills in 1829 till the day they departed in 1947. We may be surprised at the magnamity
of the British, strange, though it may sound that they never thought it necessary to interfere in the customs of the Khasis.
For their needs and requirements of land the British went through proper negotiations. After due agreements, paid for the
land in cash."