Row over adopting father’s surname in matrilineal Meghalaya 

Men’s rights organisations and activists slam the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council’s order to headmen not to issue Scheduled Tribe certificates to anyone not adopting his or her mother’s clan name 

May 16, 2023 01:56 pm | Updated September 30, 2023 12:51 pm IST - GUWAHATI

A tribal council’s order not to issue a Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificate to any Khasi person who adopts the surname of her or his father has triggered a war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya. Image for representational purposes only.

A tribal council’s order not to issue a Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificate to any Khasi person who adopts the surname of her or his father has triggered a war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya. Image for representational purposes only. | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

GUWAHATI A tribal council’s order not to issue a Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificate to any Khasi person who adopts the surname of her or his father has triggered a war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya. 

The Khasis, numbering about 1.39 lakh, are one of the three indigenous matrilineal communities in the northeastern State. The other two are Garos and Jaintias. 

The Voice of the People Party (VPP), an 18-month-old political entity that won four Assembly seats in the February 27 election, has been critical of the order of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) order about a month ago. 

Also read | Learn from the Khasi way

In that order, the KHADC directed the headmen of all villages and urban localities across the Khasi domain not to issue ST certificates to those who adopt their father’s surname instead of sticking to tradition by taking their mother’s clan name. 

“I will fight for my children if there is an attempt to take away their right of being called Khasis,” VPP president and MLA, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said at a public meeting in the State’s Nongpoh recently. 

His children are using his surname. 

“Why can they not be considered Khasi when my wife and I are Khasis?” he asked. 

“We cannot use the surname of the father as we are a matrilineal society. This is applicable to Basaiawmoit and every other Khasi,” KHADC’s chief executive member, Titosstarwell Chyne said. 

He alluded to sections 3 and 12 of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997, which says only those following the custom of using their mother’s surname will be identified as a Khasi. 

Asserting that the KHADC was committed to the preservation and protection of the age-old tradition of the community, Mr Chyne also said it is mandatory for any Khasi woman who marries a non-Khasi needs to obtain the Khasi tribe certificate for applying for the ST certificate for her children. 

Men’s rights activists among the Khasis have been fighting for switching over from the matrilineal to the patrilineal system since the 1960s. A bid by a group called Iktiar Longbriew Manbriew, meaning right to live, was short-lived but its successor, Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (home and hearth restructured) has been sustaining the crusade since its birth in 1990. 

The Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai has more than 4,000 members today.

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