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?