Amidst news of the ills of a patriarchal society that has been burdening the womenfolk for ages, Khasi Tribe from Meghalaya offers a new view that many often find incomprehensible. Khasis are a matrilineal tribe; where women inherit the property and land, children take their mother’s name and the husband lives with his wife’s family.
Meghalaya houses three tribes that practise matrilineal social structure- Khasi, Garo and Jaintia. But this paper traces Khasis.
Matrilineal and Matriarchy should not be confused as the same, matriarchy is the opposite of patriarchy and contains matrilineal aspects of the social system as well. Husband lives with his wife’s family, children take their mother’s name, women inherit property and land, women occupy all social and moral authoritative positions in the society as well as in the house, all this makes a matriarchal structure. Where women cannot be questioned as the society plays by their rule.
Men are mostly used to impregnate women in matriarchal communities as they seldom occupy powerful, assertive roles in their life. But matrilineal gives men the authoritative and moral position in society as no Khasi women occupy any position in decision making committees, not even in villages.
The origin of the tribe is still unknown as some scholars believe they came from Myanmar, while some say they migrated from Africa in 1820s. Since then, Khasis have come under the ambit of the provision for Schedule Tribes of India and occupy special status in the eyes of the law. Like they do not have to pay income tax on the businesses they run and get reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
There has always been a lot of speculation about their norms and way of life, even though women in the tribe posses more authority in society than most in the country, it does not warrant them a life sans exploitation or the wounds inflicted by men to assert their masculinity.
According to a survey, domestic violence is rampant in Meghalaya which is 50% occupied by Khasis, even divorces rates are the highest after Mizoram in the North-eastern part of the country according to the 2011 census.
The tribe is not free from the shackles of pressure of child bearing, domestic violence or divorce due to distressed spouses who find it hard to live under a roof provided by their wives.
The conventional idea of masculinity comes into play at such moments, when men define their identity as being mutually exhaustive with their wives. Not being able to own a property, child bearing mother’s name perhaps becomes a defining index for them to live with. Men are not free from prejudices and vices that comes attached with this system of society that gives it’s daughters a little freedom over men.
Why else is the divorce rate so high or in a report by CNN-IBN in 2012, 800 rapes were reported in 10 years in Meghalaya. 800 were reported, several must have gone unreported due to various social or personal reasons. This data alone shows that women in this tribe face threat from men who feel the need to assert their masculinity in any way possible.
Moreover, women in the tribe are exploited incessantly as non-Khasi men marry girls for their property because businesses run by them are exempted from income tax. Such ulterior motives often scars marriages and leads to bitter divorces.
Change is mostly vouched for by men, as their main concern lies in the fact that they have to live with their wives’ family and their inability to own property further erodes their ego. Firstpost in 2015 reported how a community called, Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai was formed in 1990 to liberate men from female dominance and they even staged protests in 1960s that were foiled by thousands of women who turned up with knives to stop the agitation.
Mounting reports of distressed men have often surfaced, unveiling the hard truth that men associate manhood by providing a roof for their family on their own expense and by monopolizing their children’s life.
Children in Khasi tribes are fathered by their uncles, their biological father of course loves and nurtures them but the legal guardian is the uncle, mother’s brother ; as children are seen as ‘pure blood’ or ‘own flesh’ by the uncles.
It can be further understood that men find themselves treated as second class citizens in their own house because they do not inherit property even if there is no daughter to claim the property. If a couple is childless or do not have a girl child, they are still bound by the tradition and thus have to adopt a girl child.
Also, a man can only leave his wife’s house if she passes away but then too he has to move back in with his sister’s family. It should be understood that in earlier times, men were extracted by wars and therefore women were left in charge of both the house and the economy and thus the traditions trace their path from those times when women were in control.
Also, now the land is inherited by women because when her parents age they come and live with daughters. So leaving the property with them gives them the financial assistance that is needed to take care of an extra set of people.
Though such facts show that women are placed on a higher pedestal, the sex-ratio of the State details a different say. The gender ratio is 1,035 females per 1,050 males in the State that means that though daughters are necessary for passing on the land, parents still prefer more sons in the family for social security reasons as men work to sustain the family just like in any other social setup.
No discrimination issues have cropped up in Meghalaya as both the girl and boy child avail same care and opportunities in life, from health to education and job to marriage. Khasis are relatively relaxed when it comes to marriage as people are allowed to choose their partners and also divorce is easily granted to put off mental agony to either of the partners.
With growing resentment among Khasi men, women choose to marry outside the tribe that adds to their torment of being treated as a second Fidel in society. They often question their manhood and the idea of masculinity because India practices primarily a patriarchal construct.
Men have always associated pride and honour with the amount of social constraint they exercise on women or anyone they deem inferior to them, but Khasi tradition often lands them in a fix.
The decision making power in the house resides with men and so does the economic reins of the family, this again puts women under their thumb and this opportunity is browbeaten to extremes.
Women complain of strained marriages and domestic violence that creeps up due to this unequal division of power and authority according to the men folk.
This proves that a patriarchal, matriarchal or a matrilineal social system can never be completely accepted by all as it subjugates one gender. To strive for a peaceful coexistence, both genders should be brought on par and that can be done only through an egalitarian social construct.