The Khasi people of Meghalaya resisted British rule for a long time and although they did not bring a sword to a gun fight, what they did bring were all forms of bow and arrows. Several warrior tribes defended their homeland, especially the region based around the Surma river and its tributaries with their lives, raining down arrows on any who may have tried snatching them.
Before long however, the need for continuous employment for their warriors crept in and that got the local administrators thinking. This gave rise to festivals where archers would compete with each other in tournaments to keep themselves in shape for any exigency.
Gruelling contests were held between arrows, black and red and in time, spectators sought to be more involved than being mere viewers. Punts were taken, bets were placed as the archers themselves sought to make more out of the sport. The exact dates are unknown, but sometime in the early 20th century, the concept of Teer gambling was born.
Teer as a form of revenue generation
Shillong, as headquarters of the unified Assam region and later the capital of Meghalaya, had banned teer till 1981. Police crackdowns were frequent as was fixing – the local dons who ran the racket were known to fix results, swindling unsuspecting commoners of their hard-earned money.
Modern-day Shillong has a lot of small odd shops, which sell tickets or slips for the game. It is almost impossible for a visitor to miss these as they are scattered across the city and the state. The Khasi Hills Bookie Welfare Association estimates that there are up to 1500 counters in Shillong alone and almost 5000 across the state.
Phillip Khongsngi, president of the Khasi Hills Archery Sports Association which is primarily responsible for the fair conduct of the sport spoke about the practice’s modern origins,“In the 70’s, it was illegal and the local don from Mawlai would rig it. The police tried their best to stamp this out but soon, they and the government realised that there is more potential in regulating the sport.”
Now, every counter has to obtain a yearly license worth Rs 3,000 from the tax department and maintain a record of daily earnings. In addition, counters also have to provide Rs 20 every day towards the conduction of the sport, mainly the daily allowance of the archers. In recent times, illegal bets have crept in as the association no longer has to provide a No-Objection Certificate to the various counters.
The Association has 12 affiliate clubs – Malki, Laitumkhrah, Mawlai – to name a few who help in the daily conduct of Teer. These clubs have their own counters, not exactly free from conflict of interest but they take turns, providing some counter-measures to check blatant fixing.
All Teer gambling is governed by the Meghalaya Amusements and Betting Tax (Amendment) Act, 1982.
Rules of the game
Every day, two clubs are chosen to contribute 10 archers each along with the association’s 30 archers. These 50 archers then shoot 30 arrows each in the first round at 3.30 pm and 20 in the second round at 4.30 pm. These are shot from a distance of 50-60 yards towards a target of a straw measuring roughly around 43 inches by 32 inches (size varies every day) in the first round and a smaller, roughly 28 by 30 square inch target in the second.
The cycle is repeated every seven days with all 12 clubs contributing archers on the seventh day. The archers, most of them from the outskirts of Shillong, earn roughly Rs 250-300 for a day’s work and the association and the clubs also pitch in with maintenance costs.
Bets are placed on the number of arrows that stick to the target at the end of each round. For example, if 750 out of 1500 arrows in the first round are stuck to the target, then the last two digits, i.e. 50 is considered as the number for the first round.
Hence, two numbers are generated every day and various games can be played involving these two double digit numbers.
Odds offered for a correct guess are uniform throughout and a winner can claim his prize by producing slips which betters are provided by the counters. There are several ways of placing a bet:
- Single: This is the most common form of placing a bet. Single or more numbers are picked and for every one rupee placed on the day’s number, the payout is eighty rupees in the first round and sixty in the second.
- House: Bets can be placed on houses or a sequence of numbers. A bet placed on 1 house would mean betting on the numbers 10 to 19 and 2 houses would mean 20 to 29. Bets would have to be placed in multiples of 10. A bet of 100 rupees on the correct house would mean a bet of 10 rupees per number and the payout would be 800 as per the rules above.
- Ending: Payout changes as bets can be placed on numbers ending with a particular digit. If 21 was the lucky number and the better had placed 100 on 1 ending, then the payout would be 900 for the first round (90 per number) and 800 for the second, slightly higher than previous two games.
- Pair: The reward is the same as the first two and here, bets can be placed on pairs, i.e 11, 22, 33 etc.
- Forecast: The biggest game of them all. Here bets are placed for both rounds as bets would have to be placed on both rounds simultaneously. A person selecting both numbers correctly in the proper sequence (first round, then second round) would stand to make 4000 for every rupee bet. But remember, the odds of picking the probability of picking the correct pair is 1 in 10000.
The interpretation of dreams
In addition, dreams play a major role in these predictions. A nightmare of being chased by the police would involve a bet on the numbers 07, 87 or 08, while an erotic dream relates to the numbers 17, 40, 53, 59, 60 or 83. These predictions are not steadfast but merely guidelines for the superstitious.
Raju Prasad at the Lucky Archery counter says that the highest payout he has ever made at one single go is Rs 32,000 for a lucky forecast bet of 40 on ten pairs of numbers.
Effects of demonetisation
These counters provide employment to a sizeable portion of Shillong’s 300,000-plus population as owners have salaried staff, sometimes paid upto Rs 15000 per month, manning these stalls.
Onik Thapa, secretary of the Khasi Hills Bookie Welfare Association, says that demonetisation has affected the Teer business, “Previously, cumulative bets of up to two crore rupees were placed every day. Bets of 1000, 2000 or even 5000 were placed previously. Now things are getting back to normal but bet sizes have gotten smaller - 50, 100 and 500 are very common these days.”
Samar Sinha, who runs the Sunita Das Archery counter, says that the months prior to demonetisation saw bets of 25,000 rupees placed at his stall every day which has now reduced to 5000 to 6000 these days.
While the long-term effects of demonetisation on the sport are uncertain, Khongsngi says that it is unlikely to affect the total intake of money as bets from all seven Northeastern states are placed via call every day.
Dominic Syiemiong, a 67-year old archer, who has been betting on 52 years now, says that the practice will continue irrespective of law enforcement, “The police used to try and disrupt the game, then held in the Polo market, but failed to do so. Today, there is more freedom and more bets are placed.”
One thing is for sure and is agreed upon by all stakeholders: This sport continues to provide employment to the dwindling archer community.