Against all odds, Shallang parish offers service to people

Philip Marwein

Till date, Nongstoin Diocese has 22 Parishes spread out in two Districts of West and South West Khasi Hills, with a population of about 1.8 lakh. There are six Parishes (Mawkyrwat, Rangblang, Nonghyllam, Mawthong, Mawpat and Munai) under South West Khasi Hills and sixteen Parishes (Mairang, Nongkhlaw, Kynshi, Markasa, Rambrai, Pyndengrei, Nonbah, Mawkhlam, Mawlangdep, Umwahlang, Maweit, Sonapahar, Nongjri, Umdang, Shallang and Rengdim) under West Khasi Hills.Of these only Shallang and Rengdim Parishes are nearest to Garo Hills and situated in most fertile areas of Western Khasi Hills but economically they are behind as compared to other parishes. In comparison to infrastructural facilities about 13 Parishes are poorly equipped at the Parish headquarters and at the village levels. But as far as community relations  with God, Jesus Christ, much is found wanting in almost all parishes, except routine community prayers, community processions and adorations. Again, it is widely noticeable that individual practice of piety, intimacy and attachment to Jesus is miserably lacking. The main cause for this is the paucity of knowledge about  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit(Trinity). Hence, apart from the age old methods of teachings, reading and training right from the basic foundation of who is God the Father, who is God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, what is Christianity and who is Catholic and  what is  Apostolic Christian Religion should be taught  by humble, religious, knowledgeable teachers of the Catholic Church: New strategies ought to be found out to fully equip members of the church to know deeply about God as revealed in the Bible and as taught by the church through its doctrines. This is important to know God, to love Him and fellow men and to grow deeply in Faith. This is a basic compulsory spiritual food to sustain the physical and spiritual equilibrium of man, because man consists of both. Man cannot live by bread alone but both, body and soul. They have to be well nourished so that they become one entity to meet Jesus at his judgement throne on Judgement Day when the living and the dead will also appear before Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He will be full of joy with his Angels to admit us in His heavenly abode forever.

Shallang  story

Now, turning to Shallang Parish, which was established in 1999, there are 45 villages under it. It has about 2000 families with a population of 9000, one Higher secondary school (Joplang Higher Secondary School) with 732 students, 10 UPPS and 6 LPS. Its nearest parish is Umdang followed by Rengdim, Rongjeng and Mangsang, the last two are under Tura Diocese. 95% of the population of the Shallang parish are farmers and only about 5 % are in other activities. One striking feature is that out of 9000 population of the parish, only about 5% are Indigenous Khasis or (Lyngngams) and all the local residents of the villages own their land for habitation, for agriculture and allied activities. 

Another important feature of the land there is that it is fertile and rich in coal deposits, in fact many landowners there leased out vast tracts of their precious land to coal barons, business  men  including politicians, rich government servants, Ministers, even bureaucrats and rich people of the state and outside the state. As a result of excessive unscientific coal mining, dumping, and stocking, vast tracts of lands rendered unsuitable for any meaningful agriculture, horticulture and allied farming activities.  Forestry activities became a thing of the past. In fact prior to mining, timber operation was rampant till invocation of the timber ban by the apex court on 12/12/1998, leaving only the rest of land to grow trees for fuel and other purposes.

Toxic water bodies

Another impact of the above is that water bodies became toxic and  not fit for drinking and aquatic species became extinct. Again, the whole environment in the areas is adversely impacted adding more destruction to the already battered environment. Then the same land owners of the Shallang-Umdang, Kyllon Mathei–Swanggre, Dalbot, Doranggre-Songsak and many areas of Shallang belt leased out their lands to many companies, including 36 coke factories which have already set up Coke factories and produced coke for last three, four or five years and, some are already in the advanced stage of producing Coke which will choke the already highly choked environment of the belt. It is a sad story for that part of West Khasi Hills.The question is who has given the necessary NOCs and clearances for setting up of the toxic factories? Are the land owners, the Dorbar Shnong, the land agents, District Councils, the MSPCB and  the Single Window agency of the MDA government are blind to life threatening environmental damages caused by these activities or are they in unholy connivance with the rich Coke factories? The sad story is the same in other parts of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills in the case of coal, cement, limestone and coke. 

Poor neglected

Taking everything into account, who stands to benefit from all these activities? Are the lower strata of the people here, the poor landowners and farmers gain anything from the plunder of the natural resources? Very little and perhaps nil. The rich coal barons, the traders, dealers, rich land agents, the rich coal owners, the owners of the Coke factories and their Managing Directors stand to be the major gainers. Again, the land agents of the clans who are also the main players in most of these business deals are the lion beneficiaries.

Again, the overall reading of the people’s land condition under Shallang areas is that it is still fertile, in spite of heavy jhum cultivation, rampant timber operation, indiscriminate unscientific mining of coal and mindless setting up of Coke factories. However, many people under Shallang Parish still engage in agriculture and horticulture by cultivating paddy, millet, chillies, maize, pumpkins, tasty gouds, bitter vegetable, yam, tapioca, orange, pine apples, litchi, mangoes, papaya, banana, jack fruits, betel nuts, betel leaves, rubber plants and rearing of eri worms and  silk worms. Today, farmers cultivate ginger, banana, citrus fruits and broomsticks. Shallang market, which is the biggest in Mawshynrut Civil Sub-division, is famous for the sale of varieties of chillies, tapioca, silk worms, eri worms, bananas, vegetables, oranges, betel nuts, betel leaves,  indigenous aroma rice, yam and ginger besides pumpkins, wild curry leaves and bitter vegetables. 

Committed to mission 

In spite of all these socioeconomic inroads which impacted the people of the areas, the Shallang Parish remains firmly committed to its mission to serve the people of the remote neglected area. Its outstanding contributions since its establishment in 1999 is in education, healthcare, socioeconomic, sociocultural and socio religious services. The social awareness and general enlightenment of the people there is largely broadened to a great extent. If truth is to be told to the public this part of West Khasi Hills which is broadly called Ri Lyngngam became enlightened and educated mainly because of the pioneering works of the  Presbyterian and the Catholic Missions. However, it cannot be denied that even the other pioneers from other Christian missions also contributed to some extent. As far as road communication and other development infrastructures are concerned, we cannot deny that the government of Meghalaya, in over the last 49 years, has done its parts to extend the fruits of development. However, it is the fact that the government has been very discriminatory and neglecting this part of West Khasi Hills and remote areas of Garo Hills. Besides, the public representatives of this area, the church leaders and village leaders in earlier years (1970 – 2001) were not effective and assertive to demand their people’s rights from the government.