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It’s a woman’s world

AFP
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Matriarchal society:A Khasi girl displays pineapples for sale at her roadside shop on the Guwahati-Shillong Road in Nongpoh, Meghalaya.Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
Matriarchal society:A Khasi girl displays pineapples for sale at her roadside shop on the Guwahati-Shillong Road in Nongpoh, Meghalaya.Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

The country's northeast is home to an ancient tribe whose high regard for women makes it a striking anomaly in a male-dominated country.

But as the world marks International Women's Day this Friday, the region has become a staging ground for an unlikely battle in which men are trying to end a matrilineal tradition practised by more than a million people.

The Khasi tribe in the picturesque state of Meghalaya places women at the centre of its society from the cradle to the grave.

According to Khasi tradition, the youngest daughter inherits all ancestral property, men are expected to move into their wives' homes after marriage and children must take their mother's family name.

And, in a ruling which helps explain the grand welcome for female babies, all parents with ancestral property but no daughters are required to adopt a girl before they die, since they cannot leave the inheritance to their sons.

The matrilineal system has endured for thousands of years here.

Khasi women exercise their right to marry outside the community.

Khasi men don't have any security, they don't own land, they don't run the family business.

Uphill battle

A men's rights movement did emerge in the early 1960s but petered out after hundreds of Khasi women turned up at one of their meetings, armed with knives.

In the past however, such conflicts have focused on expanding women's rights whether in matters of inheritance, dowry or alimony in the case of Hindu and Muslim families.

Men's rights have never been the subject of debate.

In Shillong, most women dismiss the suggestion that their society is biased.

Although Khasi women are empowered to make their own decisions over marriage, money and other matters, political participation remains low, with women accounting for only four out of 60 state legislators.

"The reason the property is left to the youngest daughter is because she has the responsibility to look after the parents until they die," said Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times. "Parents feel like they can always depend on their girls."

Meghalaya has consistently boasted a healthy sex ratio. The state's sex ratio currently stands at about 1,035 females for every 1,050 men, higher than the global norm of 1,000 women for every 1,050 men.AFP


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