When rest of the India is unapologetic for desiring a boy child, even guiltless for secretly visiting clinics for abortion of female foetuses, there is a kingdom that has absolutely no qualms about the sex of the unborn. It, rather, enthusiastically welcomes a girl child. And when the mother holds the newborn, she knows the bundle of joy is going to stay with her forever. Literally. Welcome to the bold and beautiful Meghalaya, the state that favors females over males!
Meghalaya is a tiny state tucked away in the eastern part of India. Often nicknamed as the Scotland of the East, it offers gorgeous waterfalls, serene lakes, charming caves and exotic pine covered hills. Apart from Mother Nature’s abundant blessings, Meghalaya also boasts of following, what can be called as, the world’s largest surviving matrilineal society! Cherished among the Garos, Khasis and Pnars, women from these communities enjoy immense sovereignty and mobility, infact many rules of the society were written with women in mind. So, malicious practices like bride burning, dowry (instead, there are cases where females demand one!) and female foeticide are unheard of, in this territory.
Rather, women in this territory proudly walk around murmuring “Long jaid Naka Kynthai” (from the woman sprang the clan)! Why shouldn’t they, after all, it is here that the lineage is traced exclusively through the female lines and women are actually second to none! Representing a strong matrilineal framework are basically two tribes – Khasis (largest group in Meghalaya) and Garos (second largest). Among these communities, the husband lives with his wife in his mother-in-law’s house and future children take their mother’s last name! In a typical Khasi household, the Father is the provider & guide of the house, Uncle (mother’s brother) is the undisputed king of the clan and Mother is the caretaker of the house & custodian of the wealth. The youngest daughter eventually inherits the house and major chunk of the property since she is the main caretaker of the parents and unmarried siblings. In Garo units, the property is usually passed from mother to any of the daughters, and if there are no daughters, the family adopts a girl who is usually the daughter of the woman’s sister!
One of the ironies of Meghalaya is, despite the female centric social order, there are cases which makes you wonder whether reality is different from what you hear. It is quite surprising to see that apart from M. Ampareen Lyngdoh (MLA of Laitumkhirah), there is no female representation in the Assembly and Parliament, even though the state has more female voters than men. The village heads too are men and Meghalaya only had kings (who eventually passed the crown to the son of his youngest sister). However, the overall behavioral pattern of society is enough to speak volume of Meghalaya’s liberalism and respect for women. Matrilineality in Meghalaya was never about women dominating men or women completely shunning males. But it was about respecting our mothers, creating a balance between both the sexes and celebrating the union of Ying and Yang!
Here’s a food for thought:
What if tomorrow patrilineal kinship becomes extinct in India, instead maternal power and dominance becomes the new way of life. What if men were to give dowry…live at their wives’ home…start a life in an environment of new inmates…deal with his mother-in-law’s tantrums…what if they did not have a share in the ancestral property or even have a say in their own clan after marriage?
Can our men adapt? Are we ready for matrilineal society?
@ Kendra – Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I absolutely agree with the balance equation. Matrilineality is a vanishing practice, but surprisingly it still exist in some parts of the world. But again, I don’t know whether it actually exists and is being followed rigidly or it is just a theory that’s out there. I believe even some African countries follow the M-trend…or is it just a irrational argument in today’s times? Apart from Meghalaya, few other communities in India follow female hierarchy system, like the Bunt (from Karnataka) and Nair (from Kerala).
I am so happy to have read this article. I am African American but have been following the history of matrilineal societies for a while. I didn’t know there were any still in existence. Like Deepa, I believe it should all be about balance as well. One person ruling over anything always creates divisiveness and resentment. Our relationships would be much stronger if we focused on working together rather than one having to lead another. Leadership has its place but I don’t believe that it should be in dominating the man or woman in our lives. We should be a team.
Nice read. I dont think the major chunk of Indian men will be able to live with his wife in his mom-in-law’s house. However, I have seen instances where the wives work and men have taken the liberty to sit back at house and look after the kids(mainly because the wife’s salary was more than his) However, these are just exceptions.
With India shining and changing, and with so women declaring their independence, time is not far when we would find house-husbands. Infact I read it in the internet some time back about men staying home and looking ater kids and taking a part time job, so that their wives can work and fulfill their career (especially after that initial 1-2 years of break that women take after having kids). Glad to know such men exist in India…so India is slowly changing. In the meantime, we should learn something from Meghalaya, that state is beautiful and bold.
Men can never tolerate womens’ supremacy. The 15 yr old Women Reservation Bill, which is still waiting for final approval of the Indian Parliament, reflects their attitude towards women. Hence, let’s not hope against the hope.
@ Anita – I know where your angst is coming from…I mean just look at that bill that’s stuck up since so long. But, on the other hand I think India is slowly changing…look at the examples cited by Roh and TheGoodWife. Let’s keep the hope:)
@ TheGoodWife – Thanks for the update on the new India. I like your optimism.
@ Roh – Thank you for sharing the news to us. It is so refreshing to hear about house-husbands, when all these days we’ve been hearing was house-wives. Such exceptions will eventually make a big difference.
To adapt one needs time, be it man or woman.
Yes, men generally are less adaptable to tough situations and circumstances. They simply cannot fathom all that a woman endures, both physically and emotionally. But having said that, I believe men can too or should be able to. Ability to judge and adapt comes from a balanced yet conscientious upbringing within a family, be it a boy or a girl.
Anyhow, I don’t believe in a world (leave alone society) either dominated by men or women. Matrilineal or patrilineal, what one should strive for is harmony and balance 🙂
PS: I loved your writing, keep going girl 🙂
A refreshing change from the daily dose of news that talks about atrocities against women in one form or the other! Wish our society learns something from Mehgalaya.
what to say…we know indian men and their macho image and ego, expecting them to behave differently, than their usual way is impossible. but wish we could this for maybe just one day and see how men will adjust.
@ Ivy – It will be interesting to see that ONE DAY. 🙂
@ Sana – Indeed! Meghalaya is quite a unique state. People just know about its beauty, very few know about its matrilineal society.
@ Deepa – Yes, balance and harmony between the sexes should be the word, because to run the society, you need equal participation of both. I think with time India will restore and strive towards this balance. Examples as cited by Roh and TheGoodWife reveals that ‘the time’ has arrived, at least in certain sector of the country. Wish the media covered more of such news and enlighten us. By the way, thank you for your encouragement.