Shillong, Nov. 10: This is one place where family planning officials would fear to tread.
The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council of Meghalaya has felicitated a mother of 17. This might seem outré in a country with a billion-plus population, but the aim is to encourage indigenous tribals to increase their numbers.
This bizarre felicitation stems from the fear that indigenous people will be swamped by immigrants and non-tribals and intends to counter that “threat” by encouraging local clans to grow larger.
The 46-year-old Khasi woman has been rewarded with a cash prize of Rs 16,000 for mothering 17 children. But the irony is too stark to escape notice — the kids’ father is a Hindi-speaking immigrant from north India.
Amelia Sohtun, who lives at Rngi on the outskirts of Shillong, was presented the award by the district council’s chief executive member, H.S. Shylla, yesterday.
“She has set an example for others. The only way to save the land of Khasi and Jaintia communities is to increase the population,” boomed Shylla after felicitating Sohtun. This extraordinary function was held in the council’s own office.
An emotional Sohtun said: “This recognition has come at a good time. People of our village had started to look down on us for our big family.”
“We had never thought we would have such a huge family, but they are all God’s gift,” added Sohtun, whose husband A. Rai is a vegetable seller.
Shylla himself nimbly deflected the obvious question about the father, fraught with complications. All he said was that “cross-marriages are accepted in our society. Their children are as indigenous as we are”.
He added that because the Khasi-Jaintia population is very small (10 lakh at last count), the people fear that they will become minorities in their own land. “This fear factor is why NGOs had organised an agitation against outsiders,” he said in a reference to the Khasi Students Union’s decades-old drive against immigrants.
After all, Shylla’s is a “mission with a purpose”. So he isn’t bothered too much that his policy runs counter to the national family planning programme.
Next week, the district council will award prizes to two other women, one at Nongstoin and another at Mawkyrwat, who have mothered 24 and 19 children respectively. The council said the mother in Nongstoin has lost four of her children “but still has 20”. One of Sohtun’s children, too, died a couple of years ago.
The indigenous people are fast losing their land because outsiders are taking advantage of a thin population The only way to reverse this trend is to increase the population of indigenous tribals, Shylla argued.
The last census showed that the Khasi population — which also includes the Jaintia tribe — stood at 10 lakh. The district council has set a target of pushing this number up to 20 lakh.
No reaction has been forthcoming from the state government, headed by J.D. Rymbai, yet.
A couple of weeks ago, a militant outfit of Manipur, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak), called for an immediate halt to birth control measures being practised among indigenous ethnic groups in Manipur. It argued that the influx of outsiders threatened to swamp the indigenous people.