I’m a Khasi Woman and I’m Outraged at Meghalaya’s Regressive Bill

The Bill seeks to discourage Khasi women from marrying outside community and strip them of their rights, if they do.

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Women
4 min read
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I’m a Khasi Woman and I’m Outraged at Meghalaya’s Regressive Bill

I wonder if it would be possible to find compassion from people across the globe for something ‘regional’. Whether we could all find it in ourselves to look at human beings beyond their race, colour, creed, gender? I’d like to find out through my article.

I am not a gender expert and this article may not even have all the answers to the problem I am sharing. But I’d still like to articulate my deepest fears as a woman who comes from mixed ethnicity.

I am a Khasi woman from Meghalaya and I belong to one of the most unique and women-oriented societies in the world, where a mother’s bloodline is the core essence of a matrilineal society (note – it is not a matriarchal society).

I Grew Up Independent and Empowered

It is because I’ve grown up around strong and resilient women, that I’m well acquainted with the ideas of equality, independence and freedom. I have never been or felt stigmatised because of my gender – nor do my brothers receive more privileges than me and my sisters. When I reminisce about my childhood, I remember my grandmother allocating household chores to all my siblings, irrespective of our gender.

This is very evident in most Khasi households in Meghalaya.

However, it is daunting to realise that there aren’t as many women representatives in leadership roles at the political or community level – for instance, we have only 3 female MLAs this election term in Meghalaya out of 60 MLAs.

But somewhere, in the midst of that grey area and despite it, it is so ingrained in most of us in Meghalaya – at the familial level – to see women at par with men.

Value is given to equal partnership in performing roles and responsibilities at home or at work. It is not a perfect system of gender equality, but traditionally, the rights that women hold – such as, inheritance of ancestral properties, makes the position of women more secure within the community.

I believe it is so important that the country discovers and tries to learn from the traditions of this Khasi society which aims to uplift women and see men and women as equals.

However, somewhere along the way, I have realised that this pride in our values is perhaps not unanimously shared. There are certain elements in our society who are not happy with the traditional arrangements of a matrilineal society.

Bill Against the Freedom of Khasi Women

Last month, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in Meghalaya drafted a Bill – Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) (Second amendment) Bill, 2018 which says: “3(d) Any Khasi woman who marries a Non Khasi as well as her offspring(s) born out of such marriage(s) shall be deemed as Non Khasi who shall lose the Khasi status and all privileges and benefits as a member of the Khasi Tribe who cannot claim preferential privileges under any law”.

Surprisingly, there are many people who are supporting the Bill because they believe that this will ensure economic prosperity of Khasi people, whereby the non-Khasi husbands of Khasi women will not get to take advantage of her status and her land to accelerate his business in the state of Meghalaya.

They also believe that it will save the Khasi community from getting extinct based on pure blood gene pool assessment.

There was also a lot of outrage against the Bill in the state of Meghalaya, with many claiming that this Bill can instigate honour killings of Khasi women who choose to marry non-Khasi men, and that the freedom of Khasi women to make their own decisions has been discounted, making it a gross violation of human rights.

The Governor of Meghalaya has sent back the bill to the KHADC to review. Legally, chances are slim for such a bill to become the law in the state of Meghalaya.

Well, I should simply be happy and let this issue rest, right? Because my privileges as a Khasi woman will probably stay intact, along with my right to marry anybody. But I don’t think this matter should die down; I don’t think we should ignore the fact that there are several Khasi people who support this Bill – a Bill that defies the existing codes of egalitarianism. I hope these people have really strong grounds to want to strip Khasi women outright of their rights and privileges.

As long as these ideas exist within the society, the matrilineal system will not serve the purpose of gender equality. The idea is not to push away those people who do not subscribe to the same ideas as you, but to understand where they’re coming from and what they, too, stand to lose from losing the beautiful matrilineal traditions.

(Emarine Kharbhih is a Programme Manager at Impulse NGO Network and an Acumen Fellow 2018. She has started a petition on Change.org against the Khasi Lineage Bill to make people aware about the regressive attitudes behind the Bill. You can find the petition here.)

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