|Saturday, February 16, 2002||
THE tribal village of Malana in Kulu district of Himachal Pradesh is sometimes called ‘the Republic of Malana’ because the Malanis have their own system of governance. Besides a legislature and an executive body, the ‘Republic of Malana’ also has a judiciary. Although property and social disputes are very rare among the Malanis, if there is any such dispute it is taken to the judicial council — the Malana Supreme Court — for the final judgement and not to any government agency or court of law. The Malana court then fixes a day for its verdict as per the norms of the oral constitution of the Malana ‘state’. The oral constitution inherited from ancestors and passed on to generations states that on the appointed day both parties involved in the dispute — plaintiff as well as the defendant or any representative from their families — must take bath under a nearby waterfall early in the morning without being seen by anybody. Without eating or drinking anything and draping a white blanket robe around the body, they should come to attend the court proceedings, watched by all members of the ‘upper house’ and, if possible, by all villagers.
In accordance with the constitution, two white lambs of equal weight and age are selected by court officials from the village without paying any prize to the owners and brought to the devta’s place — the venue of the court proceedings. In full view of the court and the public, the court proceedings start by preparing two equal doses of jaihar mohra — a herbal poison which is locally available. On the right foreleg of each lamb, a three-inch long and about one-and-a-half-inch deep incision is made with a sharp knife. The poison is then put inside the cut (of both the lambs), which is then sown together with a needle and thread. Both the lambs are then taken to the devta’s place (an enclosure) and tied to temporarily erected posts by the court officials. The judicial members of the council allot each lamb to each party in dispute. Escorted by the court officials, the plaintiff and the defendant are then brought to the venue and asked to kneel down in front of their allotted and poisoned lambs. Then begins the wait for the lamb that dies first. When either of the lambs appears to be dead, the warrant officer confirms its death by putting dust into its eyes. When the death of any one of the lambs is thus confirmed, the warrant officer announces it to the court. The party whose lamb dies first in the proceedings is declared to have lost the case. The lamb that dies later wins the case for its party. The winning party is then required to give a feast to the whole village. No money, no delay, no advocates, no long wait but the lives of two innocent lambs sacrificed to passed the last judgment!
The Malana tribe is unique in many other respects too. Malanis have chosen a non-fertile mountain ridge to settle in — the Chanderkhani mountain range at about 8000 feet above the sea level, which is totally isolated and separated from the rest of the district by a high mountain range and the Malana Nullah. The place is linked to other areas not by road but just tracks. The nearest road head to Manala is Jari on the Manikaran -Bhuntar road, about 17 km away. The Malana Project of the Bhilwara Group has constructed a road that will cut short the distance from Jari by about 9 km. The Malana village appears to be a safe hideout, well fortified by natural barriers from all sides. Why Malanis chose this remote and isolated place that remains cut off from the outside world for about eight months is a question that remains unanswered.
Malanis do not have any socio-cultural, religious, linguistic or anthropological affinity to the neighbouring Aryans of Kulu, Bhots of Lahaul and Spiti and the Kinners of Kinnaur. They are an endogamous society. All marriages take place within the tribe’s four sub-groups which claim to be Rajputs of Dhamayani, Nagbani, Durani and Panchani origin. No Malani can marry a person who does not belong to Malana. And no outside person can get married in Malana. Polygamy is allowed but not polyandry. A man may get married ten to fifteen times and a woman may leave her husband any number of times she wishes.
The features of Malanis are also different. They look more like Europeans and less like Indians. Malanis unlike their neighbours of Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur do not have flat noses and rounded features, but have prominent noses. Some of them are blue-eyed too.
The language of Malanis (Kanash/Kanashi/Malani) is also unique and different. Linguists like Grierson and Roland have grouped their language with Chamba - Lahauli and Kinnauri in Himachal Pradesh and with Byangsi in Nepal and Chaudangshi, Darmiya of Pithoragarh district in Uttaranchal.
In view of the tribe’s
socio-cultural and anthropological uniqueness, some scholars have
hypothesised that the Malanis are the descendents of the Greek
soldiers of Alexander’s army who deserted him during the Indian
invasion. No archaeological or anthropological studies have yet been
undertaken to prove or disapprove this hypothesis. The author who is a
linguist and has undertaken the linguistic study of Kanash (Malani)
also does not have sufficient data to subscribe to this hypothesis.