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Toxic Masculinity: What the Amendment to Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997 is really about

 

By Laetitia Bruce Warjri | July 30, 2018

In a globalised world, the question of identity has become a fundamental one. Who we are, our place in the world, and what sets us apart from others is determined through the concept of ‘identity’. In the national arena, the question of who is ‘Hindu’ is occupying a major part of the space for discourse. For a community that makes up about 80% of our population, it is interesting to note that there is a sense of disquiet amongst certain members of the Hindu community. What happens then when we look at a community that is much smaller? What does living in a 21st-century reality mean for a tribe as small as the Khasis?

ALSO READ | KHADC Bill: A timely Bill handicapped by gender inequality — By Mayborn Lyngdoh R

The recent Bill to amend the Khasi Hill Autonomous District (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) Act, 1997 has divided the Khasis into two camps: Those who are for it and those against it. It seeks to deprive a Khasi woman who marries a non-Khasi man of her Khasi status. Not only the woman loses Khasi status but the offspring of such a union will not be allowed to avail Khasi status either. This amendment, in one fell swoop, deprives the people falling under it of ST status (under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution) and all the benefits, privileges, and protection that come with it.

This move is not sound in many respects: Legal, customary, and ideological. The first legal challenge to the amendment will come under Article 14 of the Constitution – the right to equality. The right to equality provides for equality amongst equals. It allows for a differentiation between groups of people provided there is a reasonable basis for doing so. For example, the distinction between a juvenile and an adult is on a universally accepted sociological and scientific basis. The reasoning behind the distinction is that those below the age of 18 do not have mental, emotional, and reasoning capabilities that are as developed as those older than 18.  Therefore, expecting the same out of a juvenile as we would out of an adult would result in inequality. They are not equals.

READ | An open letter to KHADC leaders on Khasi Lineage Bill 2018

On what basis has the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) differentiated between Khasi women who marry non-Khasis and Khasi men who do the same? Why have only Khasi women been made to lose their Khasi status should they marry outside the community? The Statement of Objects and Reasons only notes that this amendment is to “strengthen the Khasi social custom of lineage by way of codification.”

Irony just died as the reason the Khasis are celebrated outside their home state of Meghalaya is because of the community’s matrilineal structure. The Khasis trace lineage through the female line, children carry their mother’s surname, a woman is not expected to move out of the family home and move into her husband’s. In fact, Khasis are also matrilocal. It is the man who moves into the woman’s home (especially if he marries the Khatduh, the youngest daughter of the family).

READ | Mr. Shylla won’t approve of this: I, a Khasi woman, oppose the KHADC Amendment of Lineage Act

So the question arises, if lineage is traced through the woman, how can the child of a Khasi woman not be Khasi? For the entire history of the Khasis, it has been the woman’s name that has been passed down to the child making the offspring a part of the maternal clan.

In March this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry who we choose is a fundamental right that is protected by Article 21 of the Constitution (the right to life and personal liberty). Under what power can the KHADC decide who it is that a Khasi woman marries and what the consequences of such a union will be? That is akin to indirectly coercing women into marrying only those men deemed fit by the KHADC, which is a gross violation of both the rights to equality and personal liberty. Formed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that provides for the setting up of Autonomous District Councils for protection of tribal rights in the states of Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Mizoram, the KHADC cannot decide who is “Khasi” and who is not. Its job is to promote and protect tribal interests not decide on the eugenics of Khasi identity.

A reading of the original act will give us a better understanding of how this amendment discriminates against Khasi women. The original act has provision for both Khasi men and women who marry non-Khasis. They themselves retain their Khasi status but the children are only given Khasi status if they fulfill the criteria in sub-clauses (i) to (v) of clause (b) of Section 3 of the original act, namely, if they can speak Khasi, they have observed the matrilineal system of the tribe, have not voluntarily renounced their Khasi status, have not adopted the customs of the non-Khasi spouse or parent, or have not been deprived of their Khasi status by a judgment or order or under any provision of the act. There is no distinction between Khasi men and women who marry outside the community. The same criteria applies to both.

In fact, the original act goes even further, and has a sub-section (under Section 2) that exclusively deals with non-Khasi women who marry Khasi men. As per custom that has been in practice by the Khasis, the non-Khasi woman can undergo a ceremony where she is given a ‘jait’, i.e., a clan name. She then becomes a Khasi with her clan name bearing the prefix ‘Dkhar’ or simply ‘Khar’, signifying that she was once a non-Khasi but is now part of the Khasi clan system with her own clan name.

This part of the original act has not been touched and will continue to function and be enforced as before. In practical terms, this means that Khasi men can continue to marry non-Khasi women without losing their Khasi status. The children born of such a union will also not lose their Khasi status. Why then have Khasi women been denied the same privilege, especially since the Khasi clan name is carried through her and not the man? Is it not logical to assume that according to the custom of matriliny, the child of a Khasi woman regardless of who the father is will automatically become a Khasi carrying the mother’s clan name? Why the emphasis on a patrilineal determination of identity when, by custom, the Khasis have a matrilineal system of determination of identity? This move by the KHADC reflects a troubling sense of male domination in a community that has been marked by an ability (in some important areas) to give the woman equal importance.

‘Khasi’ according to the original act is defined as ‘Khasi, Jaintia, Pnar, Synteng, War, Bhoi, and Lyngngam’. All these tribes are recognised by the original act as falling under the Khasi tribe. The trouble arises when a Khasi woman marries a non-Khasi man who is part of an ST community that is not Khasi like the Garos, the Mizos, the Bodos, etc. Does she lose her ST status but the child of such a union gains the ST status of his/her father? Each of these tribes have their own system of marking identity that may or may not be prejudiced against a woman from outside the community and her offspring. Things get even more complicated when the Khasi woman divorces her non-Khasi spouse. Does she get her Khasi status back? Or once married to a non-Khasi, you will be an outcast for life, according to the eyes of the law?

This amendment is not well thought out. It seems to be a knee jerk reaction by male chauvinists who believe that only women should be held accountable for the customs and traditions of the tribe. As is the case in patriarchal societies worldwide, it is the woman who is the vessel that carries symbols like honour, purity, and tradition. Men can do as they please and never have their honour and purity questioned. It is a sad state of affairs that a people that has prided itself on being “better” than others because it provides a semblance of respect for its women is falling into the trap of toxic masculinity that tries to control the choices and actions of its women.

DISCLAIMER The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TNT- The Northeast Today. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of TNT- The Northeast Today


You can also contribute articles and opinions for our website by mailing them to us at web@thenortheasttoday.com and shweta@thenortheasttoday.com

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An Open letter to Edu Minister on ‘Education as a booming business’

TNT | LETTERS | March 23, 2019:

This is an ‘Open Letter’ to the Meghalaya Education Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui on the admission fees of students from a concerned citizens of the state, Mayborn Lyngdoh R.

8 surrendered GNLA cadres- a sheer case of misguided youth! Where are we heading?

Date: March 14, 2018

Respected Editor,

I would like to draw your attention to the employment issues that the youth are facing in Northeast India.With the development taking its toll in Shillong, the employment sectors have seemed to lose its way.

Many of the youth are not being able to come up with opportunities due to which they have chosen to travel abroad or are sometimes forced to opt for illegal ways to earn livelihood.

READ | WATCH | 8 GNLA Cadres officially surrender before Meghalaya Home Minister in Shillong

Let us take the example of the 8 GNLA cadres who surrendered recently in Shillong. The question to be asked here is that if these young people really wanted to become militants and fight for their rights, they would have continued their fight even after the death of Sohan D Shira. But the very fact that they surrendered proves that they chose the path of insurgency due to lack of viable opportunity to earn a dignified living. Isn’t there enough source of employment where they can earn their livelihood? The answer is No

WATCH |

Can this also be the reason causing increase in crimes prevailing not only within the state but also in numerous parts of the country? Few days back I came across news where few youth were arrested in a smuggling case in Guwahati. Such kind of incidents are rising with each passing day. In future it may become a serious issue and it is better to tackle this problem as our first priority. As it said “Prevention is better than cure”.

Yours Faithfully,

Preetty Chambugong Marak


You can also contribute articles and opinions for our website by mailing them to us at web@thenortheasttoday.com and shweta@thenortheasttoday.com

Will A. L. Hek’s son be convicted or released?

By MAYBORN LYNGDOH R | April 09, 2018

To,

The Editor

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

Following a recent incident of a Meghalaya MLA’s son being involved in a tragic road accident that led to the death of a cop associated with Shillong Jail while critically injuring another constable of Meghalaya police, a question that has been lurking in people’s mind is that, “Will the minster’s son ever be convicted or will he be out on bail for he happens to be the son of Meghalaya  Health Minister, AL Hek.

READ | Meghalaya: Mercedes driven by Health Minister’s son hits motorbike killing a cop, injuring another

 

LETTERS | MTET paper leak: A ‘torturous’ crime for genuine candidates

LETTERS | Feb 04, 2019:

Editor,

In respect to the recent report on question paper leak of the ongoing Meghalaya Teachers’ Eligibility Test (MTET), I must say I am sympathetic to the plight of those innocent and genuine candidates have worked tirelessly.

What ‘Matrilineal Meghalaya’ should learn from Sikkim Govt’s stand on women!

 

Date: September 25, 2018

To 

The Editor

Shillong News

 

Respected Editor Sir/Madam,

Land and property rights in certain states of Northeast India have invited several critiques in as far as the rules and regulations laid down on the basis of customary laws are concerned with respect to the indigenous population of each state.

Recently the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in Meghalaya was embroiled in controversy in the month of July this year after it gave its approval on a social custom bill that would strip a Khasi woman of her ST status and all privileges associated with it if she marries a non-Khasi.

READ | Meghalaya | Khasi woman marrying outside tribe to be stripped of ST status, benefits

Interestingly, the KHADC bill came just a month after the LR&DM Dept Govt of Sikkim in June this year released a notification laying down the guidelines on property ownership for Sikkimese women married to a non-Sikkimese, making her eligible to inheriting her parent’s property.

In what had come as a major relief in terms of property rights to the Sikkimese women who have/had married non-Sikkimese men, LR&DM Dept Govt of Sikkim in the month of June released a notification laying down the guidelines on property ownership for Sikkimese women married to a non-Sikkimese.

ALSO WATCH | KHASI LINEAGE BILL 2018: Protecting Customs or a mere Political Stunt?

The notification read–, “It is hereby directed that, notwithstanding para 23 of Sikkim Registration of Documents Rules 1930, any document regarding transfer of property which has been presented for registration by a Sikkimese women married to non-Sikkimese, may ordinarily be registered and the ownership of the property on her demise shall be governed as per the existing rules and regulations prevailing in the state.”

While on one hand, the KHADC Bill invited resentment from various sections of women in Meghalaya pertaining to the discriminatory nature of the Bill, the order by LR&DM Dept, Sikkim was hailed by married Sikkimese women who were demanding their right to parent’s property, thus making them eligible for the same.

This stark contrast presented above depicts an irony- one that may have been ignored for far too long but which came into the limelight (or should we say, made itself very prominent) in so called ‘Matrilineal Meghalaya’ only recently, where the youngest daughter of the Khasi family becomes the custodian of the family property (But note that ‘custodian’ here does not imply inheritance of the same).

As per the KHADC proposed Bill, the Khasi woman would be stripped off her ST status and even the aspect of ‘custodianship’ of ancestral property if she happens to marry a non-Khasi person. But let us note here that in any way, she is never inheriting ancestral property but only gaining custody over it.

So, my point here is that- Were all the hailing slogans for ‘Matrilineal Meghalaya’ only a facade to veil the patriarchal mindset? Where there is an attempt to even dictate a Khasi woman about the person she should/should not marry thereby putting her ST status as well as other benefits at stake, does it portray the staunch mindset of many people who believe women should be at the beck and call of a man?

I think the Sikkim’s Government’s stand on land and property rights and most importantly, on women ought to serve as an example to ‘Matrilineal Meghalaya’ and the bodies laying down customary guidelines! Is anybody listening in Meghalaya??

NAME WITH HELD ON REQUEST


The writer can be reached at shwetarajkanwar@gmail.com & shweta@thenortheasttoday.com

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