By CHERRY KORDOR KHARSHIING | August 2, 2018
In the first place, I shouldn’t be wasting my time on an amendment to the Khasi Hills Autonomous District ( Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) Act 1997, which has not even seen the light of day yet. But since this legislation is sitting at the Governor’s table, I have a few questions to KHADC. But before I get there, I just want to draw our attention to a small but significant feature of what is a Customary law?
Though I am not a legal expert and I am sure there are other interpretations to it, my understanding of a Customary law is that it is made up of uncodified (unwritten) and also codified ( written) laws. Codified Customary law is often criticised for not being accurate because it confuses the real principles of unwritten Customary law. Shifting back our attention to the Lineage Act, I have this to say. It is a half baked legal interpretation of my Matrilineal System. Here is why it is flawed.
#1 While it traces clearly that the Lineage of the Khasis is through the mother, it is completely silent on the role of the kni or the maternal uncle. Many of us who still practice the system have been taught by our parents and grandparents that we should hold the kni in a high place within the family. He has a moral authority over his sister’s house. No decision can be made without his consent. (Of course the kni needs to be an upright and responsible person).
#2 While the Act offers the female a privilege by giving the daughter the ancestral property, however she is just a custodian of it. This means that whatever decision she makes over it, she needs to consult her brother. If any of her brothers fall into a misfortune, it is her moral responsibility to assist him by virtue of her being the custodian of the ancestral property.
#3 We also have the concept of Nongtymmen (ancestral wealth) and the Nongkhynraw ( self acquired wealth). In my Matrilineal System, the daughter is entitled to the Nongtymmen. As for the Nongkhynraw, it is upto the wisdom of the parents to decide to whom they give it to. My Matrilineal System does not prohibit them from giving it to their sons.
To quote Fabian Lyngdoh’s article ‘ On codification of Customary Laws’ which appeared on November 21, 2013. He said ” when a custom is codified, it becomes a law which is open to the interpretation of lawyers and the courts. In vulgar language, a codified custom becomes a goldmine for lawyers rather than Justice for people. The Lineage Act is flawed because it fails to cover male privileges and this is the reason that there is so much confusion and frustration and economic imbalance amongst the Khasi males today.
To amend the Act by stripping away the Khasi status of a woman who enters into marriage with a non Khasi is not only regressive but morally wrong. This is no justice at all. This approach is very Taliban in nature. It is my humble request to the Governor to perceive and give a careful thought to the kinship aspect of my Matrilineal System.
It always make sense to me to give people the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the KHADC has only good intentions by wanting to amend the Act, yet I still have the following questions for you.
Q1) Why don’t you codify kinship as well? Codifying only Lineage without its other half which is kinship is not complete and it goes against what it means to be a Khasi. Please correct what is wrong. Repeal the act, amend the Act or make a new one. Do what you have to do but CODIFY KINSHIP and also include the role of the father in it and everything else will fall into place.
Q2) You said that soon this Bill will be applicable to the Khasi men as well and thus you will do away with the Tang Jait. Why do you want to do away with it? Please remember that we elect you to protect the Khasi culture and customs and not to destroy them or sell them. Doing away with the Tang Jait means taking away the accommodating nature of our culture. But more importantly it will weaken the Seng kur, the Dorbar Kur and the other traditional authorities whom your same Act have entrusted the responsibility of ka tang jait with. You will diminish the very essence of ki rangbah kur or the elders of the clan.
Q3) if this Bill receives the governor’s assent (which I think it won’t), Don’t you see that it will breed a culture of hate? I have a son and a daughter. I worked everyday to raise both of them to be good human beings. if in the distant future my son hates my daughter and manipulates her to lose her identity for his own gain, I will forever hold you responsible.
In conclusion, stop the massacre of our unique culture by codifying certain customs and overlooking others. Or else this act will be just a goldmine of lawyers. This action of yours is an embarrassment and the entire world is laughing at us.
Our ancestors were just people for they had provisions for gender equality in our customs. The Khasi males are feeling less privileged today because this act fails to include them.
(The writer is Assistant Professor of the Mass Media Department, St Anthony’s College, Shillong)
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