Inter-caste and inter-faith marriages have cost lives in India. Now, Meghalaya is on the boil over indigenous Khasi women marrying non-Khasis. A move is on to amend a key law so that Khasi women who wed outside their race will lose their privileges due to them, in one of the world’s last matrilineal societies.
The move has fractured the 2 million-strong Khasi community so badly that some want what next door Assam is undergoing – the National Register of Citizens.
The big debate in Shillong: if Khasi women marry non-Khasi men, the entire Khasi tribe is going to be wiped out versus opposition to mixed marriages is divisive and anti-women.
The collision has been sparked by the chief executive member of the Khasi Hill Autonomous District Council (KHADC). HS Shylla, a member of the ruling National Peoples’ Party, is trying to push through an amendment bill to the Khasi Lineage Act so that Khasi women lose their right to land, property and the clan name if they marry outsiders.
“Being matrilineal, if they marry our women, they can exploit. In Meghalaya, we have a land transfer act where a non-Khasi cannot buy land. Why? To safeguard us. But through the marriage with a Khasi woman, you can buy land, you can trade, do business, you don’t have to pay income tax. Your children can contest election. We are being exploited. We have to stop this at any cost,” says Mr Shylla.
Many women support the move. In fact, there is a newly-formed group called STIEH that has held demonstrations in support of the amendment. But many others – men and women – don’t back the bill and the fight has turned ugly. Activists opposed to the bill have been threatened with rape and murder on social media, mixed marriage children mocked.Advertisement
Agnes Kharshiing, an activist, is outraged. “This is a democracy but the way they are trying to push it through with pressure groups and slang degrading women. We cannot tolerate such things. We had to file the FIR to show these things will not be tolerated by a civilized society,” she said.
Also angry is Angela Rangad, an activist who says the bill is hurting Meghalaya. “The society is divided. Many believe this is the answer to ensuring we as a tribe survive. But others feel it is not only an attack on women and our very being khasi… because we take our clan surname from women… we are matrilineal… so taking that away means you are taking identity away.”
The bill is currently with the government, returned by the governor without comment. Fueling the crisis is the national register of citizens exercise next door.
Editor of the newspaper, Shillong Times, and strongly opposed to the amendment, Patricia Mukhim, says, “The bill has just triggered more fear and xenophobia now and the groups demanding the bill are demanding we should have NRC here and also the inner line permit.”
Mr Shylla confirms her apprehensions. “Look at Tripura, once a tribal state. Where are the tribals now. The Assamese people are perished. We have to protect ourselves. You rest of India don’t understand about us… the Mizo, the Naga, the Garo, the Khasi have to protect themselves otherwise they will perish,” he said.
Written by Monideepa Banerjie, NDTV