Is Meghalaya backward due to matrilineal society?

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Shillong, Aug 14(UNI) Is Meghalaya economically backward due to the matrilineal nature of it's society? This contentious issue has come into the public domain when a section of Khasi intellectuals, led by Mr Michael Syiem, Convener of Maitshaprang Movement, asserted that Khasi men were not engaging themselves much in economic activities because of the matrilineal nature of the society.

In the Khasi society, the youngest daughter becomes the custodian of the family's immovable property and after marriage the boy moves to the girl's house rather than the normal way of bride moving to the groom's place.

Mr Syiem, who has been leading the campaign for long, said no bank provides any financial assistance to any male Khasi entrepreneur because they cannot pledge any immovable property as sureties.

''This is a major practical problem which our society wants to gloss over,'' said Mr Syiem in a seminar ''Look South-A Meghalaya perspective'' organised by revered St. Edmunds college of Shillong.

In presence of a galaxy of intellectuals, historians and academicians, he opened the pandora's box, not discussed openly in the matrilineal society of Khasis and more importantly in Shillong.

Although Khasis are religiously following the matrilineal society, in the upper echelons of civil administration as well as in the 60- member Meghalaya assembly, participation of women is very less. In fact Meghalaya has just one woman MLA.

According to Mr Syiem, there has to be a definite change in the inheritance law of Khasi society.

''Since the property goes to the younger daughter of the family, male members cannot inherit any property which has further diminished the participation of Khasi males in any economic activities,'' he said.

His comments, however, opened up the debate as a large section of academicians opined that it might not be practical to change the system even if there were practical flaws in the traditional inheritance laws.

Dr J Nongbri, Professor of Economics at St. Edmunds, countered Mr Syiem's view saying the Khasi males' complacency should be removed by competitiveness.

Another faculty member of St. Edmunds Dr Abhijeet Chaudhury said change of inheritance law means change of social structure which majority of Khasis would resist.

A similar attempt to change the law was made by the Khasi Students Union(KSU) in the eighties but it was given up as the traditional Khasi society did not show enthusiastic response.

The society is divided on the issue as those seeking change had been finding it difficult to come out of the shadow of tradition.

But many modern couples were avoiding the contentious issue by moving out of the joint family homes and giving the male member their rightful place under the sun.


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