MEGHALAYA The "abode of clouds," Meghalaya is the wettest state in India. Also known as the Meghalaya Plateau or the Shillong Plateau, it lies between 450 and nearly 6,000 feet (137–1,829 m) above sea level. In the east of the state are the Jantia Hills; in the center, the West and East Khasi Hills; and in the west, the East and West Garo Hills. Over a dozen waterfalls grace the state, which is also subject to earthquakes; a major quake destroyed Shillong on 12 June 1897. In the west of the state in the South Garo Hills District is a vast tableland known as the "Land of Perpetual Winds," containing one of the richest areas of biodiversity in India. Known as the "Scotland of the East" for its resemblance to the Scottish Highlands, Meghalaya has one of the largest golf courses in Asia, the "Glen Eagle of the East," created in 1898. The capital, located in the east, is Shillong, 4,987 feet (1,520 m) above sea level, which is also the headquarters of a number of Indian military forces, including the Assam Rifles and the Eastern Air Command.
In the year 2000, the tribal Khasis, who call themselves Hynniewtrepsf (belonging to seven celestial families), and the tribal Jaintia made up 49 percent of the population of 2,175,000; the tribal Garos at 34 percent, Bengalis at 2.5 percent, and a variety of other ethnic groups, including Biharis, made up the rest of the population. Sixty-four percent of the population were Christian (most of the Khasis are Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, and the Garos are mostly Baptist), 17 percent animist, 15 percent Hindu, and 4 percent Muslim. The languages of the state are Khasi, Garo, and English. The tribals are said to have immigrated into the area before the common era and are of Mon-Khmer and Tibeto-Burman extraction. They are all matrilineal, and each tribe was formerly ruled by a raja. They practiced shifting cultivation. Rice cultivation continues to be the main agricultural occupation. Like all the tribals of the Northeast region, they celebrate the stages of the year with colorful dance festivals, which celebrate holidays originating in animistic practices, including the sacrifice of chickens and goats.
The British incorporated Assam into Bengal in 1838. The British occupied the Garo Hills in 1872, and Shillong became a hill station with a number of churches and cathedrals and Christian schools. They established a tribal district council, and Shillong became the capital of the Khasi and Jantia Hills District. In 1874, when the province of Assam was created and became a Chief Commissioner's Province, Shillong became its capital. In 1946 the Khasi-Jaintia Association was formed to demand a federation of the Khasi states, the same year the Hills Union called for a Hill State, and the Garo National Conference wanted a district administration with full political autonomy. This was the beginning of tribal political consciousness. In 1954 Shillong was made the capital of the North-East Frontier Agency. A number of political parties, including the Eastern Indian Tribal Union (1954), the All-Party Hill Leaders Conference (1960), and the Hill States People's Democratic Party (1968), were created to demand a separate state and to defend various tribal languages and interests. Meghalaya became an autonomous state within Assam on 2 April 1970, and it was inaugurated as a state of the Indian Union on 21 January 1972.
Roger D. Long
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Pakem, B., ed. Regionalism in India: With Special Reference to North-East India. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications, 1993.
Phukon, Girin, and N. L Dutta, eds. Politics of Identity and Nation Building in Northeast India. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1997.