Abandonment of Khasi Women's Lineage is an abandonment of basic human rights
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Barely 150 years have passed since the suffragette movement and the world ever since has constantly been striving to bring forth equality at all levels into the lives of women everywhere. I, however, belong to one of the most uniquely progressive societies of the world where I carry forward the bloodline and lineage of my family in my community, a practice that goes back to the very origin of the Khasi society, hundreds years ago. My children will inherit my surname (family name/clan name) and not that of my husband. This is one of the core values of the matrilineal system of the Khasi society in Meghalaya, India. And I feel nothing but pride in being a Khasi woman, someone in whom the very idea of independence runs in her blood.
A recent legislation passed by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), however, has struck the very core of our society. The new sub-section in the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) (Second amendment) Bill, 2018 is as follows:
"3(d) Any Khasi woman who marries a Non Khasi as well as her offspring(s) born out of such marriage(s) shall be deemed as Non Khasi who shall lose the Khasi status and all privileges and benefits as a member of the Khasi Tribe who cannot claim preferential privileges under any law"
The main justification provided by members of the KHADC is to prevent the silent invasion of non-Khasi men who treat marriage to woman of the Khasi tribe as an easy way to misuse land rights of Khasi women and set up business in Meghalaya. They further explained that their stance is not against any Khasi woman marrying a non- Khasi man but to simply prevent non-Khasi men from misusing the identity of their Khasi wife to take advantage of the benefits that come with being the holder of a Scheduled Tribe Certificate. This new amendment will be applied retrospectively after receiving assent of the Governor of Meghalaya, something that the KHDAC believes will happen very soon.
The bill outrightly discredits the values of our society by threatening the very identity of Khasi women, thereby leading to gross violation of human rights. Some of the apprehensions towards this bill are as follows:
1. Since no law can question a woman’s right to marry whoever she wants, however the ideas on which this bill is based (i.e., by discrediting women from being Khasi if they marry non Khasi men), very soon the entire Khasi community will become extinct; unless we too start practicing honour killings to prevent our women from marrying outside the community!
2. This conditions laid down in the bill regarding a woman’s choice of marriage renders her powerless in her own community. It is a serious threat to a woman’s right to voicing her opinion or choices apart from her decision-making powers as a member of a family as well as community.
3. The addition of this sub-section to the bill is a blow to the entire structure of Khasi social customs and culture that have been meticulously laid down by the Seng Khasi over the years (religious socio cultural organisation of the Khasis adhering to the tenets of matrilineality). Furthermore, it has always been a standard procedure of the KHADC to consult the Seng Khasi which they failed to do during this particular instance, since they knew that the Seng Khasi would not agree.
4. Additionally, this change in the bill is a gross violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees the right to equality to every citizen of this country as well as Article 21 which states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
5. According to a Supreme Court Judgement in the case of Rameshbhai Dabhai Naika vs State Of Gujarat & Ors on 18 January, 2012; it is clearly held that a marriage between a tribal woman and a forward caste man, the offspring will get tribal status if the child is brought up in the mother’s environment and will be entitled to reservation.
Despite all these basic and logical setback of the amended bill, the members of KHADC strongly supports with a righteous believe that they are saving the entire community from being extinct and that they will make sure to get this bill passed as a Law which I believe will only dismantle the voice and rights of Khasi women in the future.
As a Khasi woman, I humbly seek your support to influence the leaders in the state of Meghalaya to withhold the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) (Second amendment) Bill, 2018 from being passed as a Law.
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