Women seldom call the shots in matrilineal Meghalaya. But armed with a “to-do” list, they want the political parties to fall in line this Assembly election.
The three principal ethnic groups of Meghalaya — Garo, Khasi and Jaintia — follow the matrilineal system where the youngest daughter of the family becomes the custodian of ancestral property and men live with their in-laws after marriage.
Men, though, have traditionally wielded political power. The trend has continued with only 32 women among the 374 candidates vying for 60 seats.
At least two NGOs, wary that women might not have a say in the next government, want to set terms before the elections. They have bombarded the political parties with letters demanding a pledge to protect the rights of women and children in Meghalaya, besides improving quality of life.
The NGOs have demanded the strict implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. A former rebel-turned-politician, Julius Kitbok Dorphang, chargesheeted under the POCSO Act for raping a minor, is contesting the Mawhati Assembly seat.
“Women may not become policy-makers though there are 22 more women candidates this time than in the 2013 Assembly election. But we can certainly make the men ensure a safer environment,” Agnes Kharshiing of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation said.
National Crime Records Bureau data reveal reported crimes against women and minor girls increased from 66 in 2001 to 334 in 2015. During this period, the number of rapes went up from 26 to 93, and complaints of sexual harassment rose from 25 to 95.
“We sent the letters to all parties, but only two regional parties responded with some degree of seriousness,” Angela Rangad, chief of Thma U Rangli-juki, said. Barring the National People’s Party, the regional parties have however fielded the least women candidates. The NPP has fielded five, while the People’s Democratic Front, Hill State People’s Democratic Party and Garo National Council have fielded two each.