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Are we willing for a real change?

Khasi Social Custom of Lineage (Second Amendment) Bill:

By Dr. Lakhan Kma

A lot has been said about the recent Khasi Social Custom of Lineage (Second Amendment) bill passed by KHADC which was sent to hon’ble Governor who sent it back to State government for review. As expected, there are arguments both for and against the said bill. One can’t help but think the bill is a reflection of lack of farsightedness on the part of KHADCand its divisive intent.

Personally, I would have like to see the KHADC not touching the Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997 at all or have the guts to make amendments by taking bold, out of the box thinking, keeping the reality of Khasi society in mind in the current times. Marriage is supposed to be a choice of individuals which is considered a sacred and private affair solemnized by authorities who do it in the holiest name of God. If we believe that matches are made in heaven and we continue to believe in destiny (like we say ‘thaw shyieng krung’), I see no role of KHADC in between this.

Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a Khasi lady-the only  girl child of her parents, at her mid 30’s or early, 40’somehow could not get a life partner and one fine day comes across a nice man from Assam, Bengal, Andhra, Maharashtra, Kerala, etc. or abroad, and eventuality enters into a holy matrimony with her. Consequently, the woman gets her children to continue her clan. Would the woman or her family consider it a blessing or would the KHADC step in to punish her or her off-springs? There could be another scenario where a Khasi woman’s husband turns rogue with no earnings or character, indulges in physical or verbal abuse on regular basis to the extent that she loses the confidence in Khasi men and turns to a non-Khasi man who provides the care, comfort and love she deserves. Would it be appropriate for KHADC to step in and say hey! wait till you find a next nice Khasi man otherwise we will punish you and your upcoming child by stripping your rights as a Khasi ST and we will guarantee that you get one before you run out of time?

These are the situations that are more realistic than hypothetical when we look around our neighbourhood. As ‘the jaitbynriew’ or community, we have to face these questions head-on. Marriage is a private affair between two individuals or families. If KHADC was not involved in your upbringing, education, hardships, employment, etc. they have no business to decide whom you should marry. Looking at this amendment bill in its present form, very soon the KHADC will have to open a ‘Khasi matrimony department’ for match-making.

Instead of curtailing the rights of Khasi women, I would have expected KHADC to focus on the upliftment of Khasi men to bring them at par with Khasi women in sync with the Right to Equality as granted in our Constitution. In this endeavour, the KHADC should do away with the ritual of ‘Tang Jait’ which is archaic and irrelevant to a large section of Khasi society and particularly biased towards Khasi men. If a Khasi man marries a non-Khasi, he should be allowed to pass on his surname to his off-springs. The decision of inheritance of clan name should rest with the ‘Seng Kur’ in accordance with Khasi way of life. I have several encounters with scenario where empowering men can save and shape precious life. Let me cite an extreme example. A poor young couple had children between 1.5, 3 and 4.5 years old. After a brief illness, the wife died and within a month or two, the father moved out to another woman leaving the young kids to be looked after by the maternal relatives to suffer, simply because they did not belong to his clan. Without generalizing anything, this is also the reality of our society and I don’t want to shy away from it. While our matrilineal society does give advantage to our women, at times it has also been partial to men and many a times being exploited by some selfish men. Had there been a choice to pass on the father’s clan to his off-springs, as and when needed, the kids would not have suffered in the example that I just cited above. My heart burns when I see those kids. If there were provisions in the amended lineage bill, it would have been binding on the father to pass on his clan to his children, duly approved by the Seng Kur and nurture the kids for a brighter future instead of deserting them to starve and suffer. Empowering the Khasi men would add more responsibility and it will also serve as a check and balance between Khasi men and women while enjoying equal rights.

The other change that could have been brought in the amended bill is the removal of the concept of ‘Khatduh or ‘youngest daughter’ as the custodian of ancestral property’. While appreciating the genesis of it in the olden times, it has become increasingly untenable in modern times and has been a subject of exploitation, although things are different among Pnars and Wars. Of course, many parents now are distributing the ancestral property among the siblings out of their free will; the codification of the practice will further strengthen it. With the will of the parents, I am sure the youngest daughter would not mind sharing the ancestral property with her siblings. It will also become the duty of every sibling to take care of their parents because with rights also come responsibilities. It will also perhaps, satisfy those who believe that non-Khasi men marry Khasi women, particularly the youngest one, only for facilities. Knowing fully that his would-be wife has to share the ancestral property will all her siblings, his decision will be guided by his wisdom. It will also prevent the exploitation of the Khatduh by her selfish husband by trying to take control of everything in absence of support, check and balances from the other siblings and relatives.

One has to keep in mind that a small tribe like ours has to stay united under all circumstances. Our society is vibrant and progressive. While we continue to cherish our matrilineal system, it has to be inclusive based on different scenarios/situations. Shaming and blaming a part of society will not lead us anywhere and would instead breed division among the ‘jaitbynriew’. We have very happily adopted changes with time. I am dead against those ‘sons who preach’ culture and tradition without understanding it. If not for our ability to accept what we think are better choices, all of us would have been affiliated to only Niam Khasi or Niamtre and would have officially celebrated the holidays only on Shad Suk Mysiem, Beh Deinkhlam, Shad Nongkrem or Seng Kut Snem, etc. If not for changes that we have consciously embraced, there would not have been Christian Khasis, Muslim Khasis or Hindu Khasis, etc., because all these religions are originally foreign to Khasis and were not part of our original faith, culture or tradition. Being a progressive community, we happily and willingly accepted the changes for good and should continue to do so. KHADC can’t expect a Khasi man/woman who goes outside the state for studies or jobs to come back only to marry a Khasi for fear of losing his/her ST status although they may be equally concerned for their beloved motherland as those residing in Khasi Hills.

While KHADC is expected to take stringent measures to curb exploitation of the Khasi community or its resources, its action should be mindful, farsighted and inclusive so that all members of the community continue to thrive well. As it is amply clear, the decisions of KHADC in the past is responsible for some grave blunders that continue to haunt the community till date. It has to stop adding more blunders to its kitty. May God grant wisdom and courage to KHADC so that it can play its role to protect the jaitbynriew in the true sense and with all fairness. Everybody would like to see KHADC playing its constructive, stringent implementation and monitoring role for the community without succumbing to divisive pressure, ego, vindictiveness or lure of money, true to the cause of its creation under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of our country.

 

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