Many Indian women cry out for equality, but in Meghalaya
matrilineal cultures thrive with little parallel in the world.
In India, where women often become victims of “honour killings” if seen with a male from
another caste, Khasi-Jaintia women enjoy remarkable social mobility and can accompany
any men without taboo. Unlike elsewhere in India where the bride’s family is generally required
to pay a dowry to the groom’s family, the womenof Khasi-Jaintia society do not.
Nor are there any arranged marriages.
Khasi women are enterprising and run small businesses well. In
Shillong’s oldest market, the Lewduh, women operate almost all businesses.
Many Khasi political leaders are apprehensive about outsiders coming
to settle in Meghalaya and marrying local women.
In 2007, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), which
gives the tribes self-governance, declared a policy of encouraging Khasi
women to have more children. Some Khasi mothers who had given birth
to 15 or more offspring were handed out cash rewards. “We have a lot of land
but migrants from other parts of India and neighbouring Bangladesh are
coming into Meghalaya in some numbers,” says KHADC chief HS Shylla,
justifying cash rewards in a country where the federal government advocates strict family planning.
“We may be swamped by them, like neighbouring Tripura or Assam, if we don’t grow in numbers.”
One crucial area exists, however, where women are not the dominant figures. The Dorbar Shnong
- or the grassroots political institution of the tribes – debars women from holding office and
remains a male-centric institution. “Women would be represented at the Dorbar by male members
of the family such as their husbands, brothers or uncles. These days women attend the Dorbar
but cannot hold office as executive members, and certainly not as the headman,” says Thomas.
The 60-member Meghalaya state assembly also has only four women lawmakers -
an unusual situation in a society where social and economic powers rest with females.
“This is one reason why women in Meghalaya have been uncertain about entering
electoral politics. There is an inherent feeling that politics is a male domain,” says Mukhim.
from Al Jazeera with thanks. Photos added by TheFree
This feature is a part of our ongoing special India coverage. To read more stories click here.
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