J. Phinri Kharshiing
Fifty three kms away from the city of Shillong, there is a village known as Saitsohpen which falls under Sohra civil Sub-Division, a place where the culture and traditions followed by the Khasis were being held dearly by both men and women, but as time rolls by these practices are only a formality to maintain and we see that few men are not happy with the practices adopted by our ancestors. Yes I am talking about the matrilineal practice that our society follows where women inherit the ancestral property and men’s position in the family has never been a subject of concern.
When we look at the history, they are two types of wealth, one is the ancestral wealth (Nongtymmen) and the other is the self acquired wealth (Nongmei-Nongpa) earn by the parents, where only the khatduh or the youngest daughter maintains and custodies the ancestral property and this is accumulated because of the saving of the ancient ancestor in that family womb or clan and it is said that from the ancestral property that particular family can use it as a capital in time of emergency but should replenish in due course.
Whereas the self acquired wealth can be distributed among the siblings. These are the fundamental things that need to be understood that khatduhship is an institution and not an error.
Matrilineal is a societal system in which a person’s ancestry is traced through their mother or maternal ancestors. Property such as land is handed down from mother to daughter. Due to this system they sometimes have a unique tradition that cannot be found in a Patriarchal society. When looking at matrilineal societies around the world, there are only a few surviving societies out of which Minangkabau society of West Sumatra, Indonesia is considered to be the biggest amongst all where the father is considered a “guest” in the family and women inherit family properties and controls the economy.
According to Ganguly (2017), he said that in the Khasi Matrilineal Society, the men accompany women to her homes to start a new life together, people celebrate when a baby girl is born and the youngest daughter of the family inherits the family property and is considered the custodian and preserver of her clan, family and lineage.
To be a man in a matrilineal society is not as easy as it sound. One needs to sacrifice and bear with the inequalities that the system has adopted generations ago. As it is, children trace their lineage from the mother’s line and that the youngest daughter inherits the property of the parents. But what was found in this study is that men are not happy with the practise as they feel that this practise has lessen down the position of men in the family even though he can actively participate in the society.
Few years ago, a group named Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT) was formed, and the main intension of it is to pull the matrilineal system — in favour of men. The organisation believes that the local male lacks a sense of responsibility because he has no customary claim over the welfare of his children since they take their mother’s surname, they belong to the mother’s clan and has little rights to lay claim on inheritance. They also believe that the local Khasi male’s way of life is very loose, making him prone to drug addiction and alcoholism and, eventually, die early.
Similarly a small study was carried out in Saitsohpen village where I tried to look at the opinion of men in the Khasi Matrilineal society on how they feel towards the practice of entrusting the ancestral property to the youngest daughter and how this practise has affects the position of men. Also I tried to access on the perception of men towards equal distribution of property. Let’s look at how these men feel towards this practice of entrusting the ancestral property towards the youngest daughter.
The practice of entrusting property towards the youngest daughter has left some men unhappy as they feel that this practice is unfair. One of the senior respondent stated “I feel that we all have got the wrong concept of this practice, we cannot say that this is the tradition that was followed because there are no witnesses or written documents to prove that the youngest daughter can only inherit the ancestral property and if in case a chaos arise in the family among the siblings because of the unequal distribution of property no one can file a case since there is no such bill being passed by the district council” which basically means that the practice of transferring the ancestral property towards the youngest daughter only is not strengthen by any law and therefore any daughter or brother of that matter can claim the property of their parents.
Men believe in equal distribution as they feel that they came out from the same womb and that property also should be equitably divided amongst the siblings. A respondent said, “I would agree if only the property is meagre and insufficient to be divided but if the property is of ample amount, it should be equally divided among the siblings”. So basically men feels disadvantage or neglected when it comes to equal distribution as they feel that they too have the right to be part of inheriting the parent’s property.
Some men feels that this practice have really lessen down the position of men in the family and brought about imbalance with regards to men in the distribution of property. Diengdoh commented that even a cow has its own shed, and so does the horse have its stable but Khasi men have none. And when people asked where are you going his respond will be, “I came from my mother’s house and I’ll go back to my wife’s house”. They sense of insecurity was felt from the respondents.
The spread of urbanisation and urban development along with the spread of Christianity have changed the perception and attitude of people among the Khasis and this has brought about modification to the system and had led to many changes. A maternal uncle in the Khasi custom used to occupy a pride of place in a family or kinship group. He exercises control over the management of the properties of the family but the study found out that this has diminished given the present pressure from the modern society where parents are responsible for their children. We see that there are a lot of changes that has taken place in the system itself where the role of the maternal uncle is seen less important in today’s modern generation and that families are only confine to their own family system.
The practice of Matrilineal system in Meghalaya is a very unique practice in a male dominated country like India. However, we do not see any opportunity of men being part of the practice of inheritance as the youngest daughter known as ‘ka khatduh’ inherits the property. So the study concludes that a majority of the respondents disagree with the practice as they feel that this practice is gender bias and that men can never be on the same level as women if the practise continues. A lot of discrimination took place where a man is only seen as provider but have less authority over his children and the property. The question here is, can these men go against the Khasi cultural practice or should they accept the practice as it is? I will leave this to our readers to ponder upon.
This piece has been written under the supervision of Wankmenlang Kharbuli