Matrilineal Society of Meghalaya| Aditi Goel

Cultures all around the world show hints of male dominance in their families. From decision making to the wife taking on the partner’s last name, a reflection of male dominance has passed from generations. While this has become acceptable to the cultures one is living in, some decide to work against. One such culture with the tradition following from ages is of the matrilineal society of Meghalaya.

Meghalaya, a beautiful state in the Northeastern region of India, contradicts the male domination in cultures. Its tribes- Khaasi, Jaintia and Garo- follow the matrilineal system. These tribes hold around 35% of the population[1]. As per the matrilineal system, the women in the family pass their name and property to the female child of the house. They run their families and hold a dominating state over the men in the household. While some employee for better stability, start their businesses with the power and strength they feel within themselves. It is followed that if a Khasi man marries the youngest daughter of the family, he is bound to live with the in-laws.

Social empowerment also reflects the degree of a woman's right to engage in different social matters, such as attending events or meetings on topics related to community development, often outside her village. A socio-economic community can empower a woman politically, socially, physically, and psychologically. Such a group is a small group of rural poor people who have volunteered to organize themselves for their participants in a group to alleviate poverty. The involvement of women in microcredit programmes helps improve the empowerment of women. It is shown that there is a positive influence on both household decision-making power and self-perception of saving actions of women getting a micro-savings account[2].

The origin of the reason behind such a system is not documented, but many say that this system took place because of lost men. Men were believed to be devoted towards wars and for that, they had to stay far away from their homes. They were said to have no time in their hands to raise children and to avoid such a scenario, the matrilineal system took place.

Women of every culture and ev.ery tiny village of this world are known to be subjects of emotional, physical and verbal abuse from men. The concept of women being the weaker half of the world makes men “entitled” to harm women in any form they wish to. In places like Meghalaya, where the matrilineal system works, it is a positive affirmation of how women can hold the dominating position in the family and create nothing but stability and integrity for her family with nothing but love and hard-work.

While some people of the tribe might be satisfied with the way things are, women carrying the name and heritage of the family, some men in Meghalaya have started to oppose the same. A men’s rights group by the name of Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai(SRT) have started a movement against the matrilineal society. They want the division of property to be fair between the children irrespective of their gender. They have been against the Khasi tribe’s system since the 1990s. The former president of SRT said that there is no sense of belonging for men in their homes or their in-law’s homes. They feel distant and rely on intoxicants at a very young age and die by the age of 40. The main motto of SRT is not to diminish the power of women but to bring men at par with the women. The condition of men has reached to such, as per the tribes, that many men stay unmarried because their condition is degraded[3].

Studies have constantly shown that the preference of sex in the children composition of a family is favored more towards women. Meaning, a family wants more female children than male. While Jaintia Trible is known for equal treatment of both the sexes in their growth and development, studies show that the overall desire is to have more female children. While this is a satisfying fact for some, studies also prove that the changes in the matrilineal society have led to parents wanting both male and female children equally[4]. Many traditional behaviours suggest that the passing off of the property to a male child would lead to abandonment and the male child forwarding the same to the woman he has married.

While women hold the power, many of them are subject to violence and abandonment by their male partners. Two stories of two women who have faced such issues will bring light to the problems faced by women of the matrilineal society. Suziemon Dkhar, a 30-year-old woman recalls how she set up her business to support her daughter while being a single mother. Dkhar was pregnant with the child of a man who has been living with her while she was pregnant. They never married but lived under the same roof as a couple. Within a few years of their relationship, Dkhar got to know that her partner was cheating on her with other women. The man started to abuse Dkhar in front of the women. After a lot of time of torture, she decided to leave him for a better life for her and her daughter. The strong powerful woman joined iLEAD (Initiative for Livelihood Education and Development), a free skill training center to learn something that would help her sustain herself. After acquiring a loan from the Microenterprise Development Programme (MEDP) in Meghalaya, she now has a gift shop which is raising her daughter well and is giving her the life, she deserves. Dashisha Thabor, a thirty-year-old woman, took two loans from MEDP to start her tailoring unit in a village. After being left by a married man who impregnated her and left a two-year-old girl on her back, she decided to get on her feet and build something from scratch [5].

These women inspire everyone around. Despite being alone and scared, despite having no money in their name, they can do anything to support themselves. They can show everyone who did them wrong that when they decide to hold onto something, they do.

Women have been fighting since day 1 to have their fair share at the table. While some groups of people try to empower women by assembling their opportunities one over the other, many groups scramble the progress. It takes courage, strength and integrity to raise a family and take care of their daily needs while the equal half of their partnership go fight a war. If women did it perfectly then, women can do it perfectly now and continue to do so. So instead of pulling them down to get an ‘equal share’ in the society, there should be support.


[1] Manasi Gopalakrishnan, Men in India's matrilineal Khasi society demand more rights: DW: 23.11.2020 DW.COM (2020), https://www.dw.com/en/india-khasi-men-rights/a-55704605 (last visited Dec 28, 2020).

[2] Minakshi Keeni* , Nina Takashino, A.K. Nongkynrih and Katsuhito Fuyuki, WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN A RURAL MATRILINEAL SOCIETY OF MEGHALAYA, INDIA, (2018).

[3] Smita Pranav Kothari, How some men want to change Meghalaya's matrilineal society The Economic Times (2019), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/how-some-men-want-to-change-meghalayas-matrilineal-society/articleshow/72309605.cms?from=mdr (last visited Dec 28, 2020).

[4] Pralip Kumar Narzary & Shilpi Mishra Sharma, Daughter preference and contraceptive-use in matrilineal tribal societies in Meghalaya, India Journal of health, population, and nutrition (2013), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702350/ (last visited Dec 28, 2020).

[5] Sanskrita Bharadwaj, In Meghalaya's patriarchy-driven matrilineal society, women turn entrepreneurs for livelihood - India News, Firstpost Firstpost (2019), https://www.firstpost.com/india/in-meghalayas-patriarchy-driven-matrilineal-society-women-turn-entrepreneurs-for-livelihood-6286081.html (last visited Dec 28, 2020).

#northeastindia #meghalaya #matrilinealsociety #womenempowerment #northeastculture

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