Seek public opinion on inheritance Bill: activists

KHADC is scheduled introduce the Bill during its autumn session on Nov. 8

Published - November 05, 2021 10:02 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Khasi women from West Khasi Hill district of Meghalaya State cross a hanging bridge. File

Khasi women from West Khasi Hill district of Meghalaya State cross a hanging bridge. File

Political leaders and activists in matrilineal Meghalaya have advised the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) to seek public opinion before tabling an inheritance Bill aimed at “equitable distribution of parental property among siblings”.

The KHADC is scheduled introduce the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021, during the autumn session of the council on November 8.

Congress veteran and leader of the Opposition in the KHADC, Pynshngainlang N. Syiem, said any new legislation dealing with customs and tradition should be placed in the public domain before it is introduced. He said he would suggest this to the council’s executive committee for inviting views of the people.

“The practice in the earlier days was for the khatduh, or youngest daughter, to get the lion’s share of the ancestral or parental property. But things have changed, and most parents are now giving a share to all the siblings,” he told journalists in State capital Shillong.

Also read: Matrilineal Meghalaya to give land rights to men

He felt the decision to pass on the property should be best left to the parents who have become more equitable in modern times.

Michael Syiem of Maitshaphrang Movement, a local NGO focused on customs, said his group has been campaigning on the issue of inheritance for more than three decades. “But we have not demanded any legislation on this as we wanted the matter to be debated within the family first,” he said.

He favoured public consultation on the Bill since two other matrilineal communities – Garos and Jaintias – have a similar custom and there needs to be common legislation that will be applicable beyond the Khasi hills.

Congress leader Ampareen Lyngdoh, the only woman MLA from the Khasi and Jaintia Hills districts, also favoured public consultation. She said stringent patriarchal tenets that are a hindrance to women’s empowerment in areas of village governance and politics should also be reviewed.

Activist Angela Rangad said Meghalaya’s matrilineal system hardly empowers women as the world beyond thinks. What the youngest daughter gets is custodianship, and not ownership, of ancestral property, and it comes with responsibilities such as caring for aged parents, unmarried or destitute siblings and other members of a clan, she explained.

Studies by local NGOs have revealed that 35-38% of women in Meghalaya own property, which is mostly owned by a clan or community. Besides, the actual control of the ancestral property is in the hands of a khatduh’s maternal uncle.

According to customs, the property of a couple without any daughters goes to the wife’s elder sister and her daughters. If the wife has no sister or sisters, the property usually goes to the clan.

Meanwhile, KHADC chief, Titosstarwell Chyne said the objective of the proposed inheritance Bill has been misunderstood. “It is not mandatory that all the children will get an equal share of the parental property. It depends on the will of the parents, to decide who will be the genuine heir of the property,” he said.

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