Matrilineal Meghalaya to give land rights to men

Matrilineal Meghalaya is set to break the tradition of sharing parental property to the khatduh, which means the youngest daughter in the Khasi language.

Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) is about to introduce the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021 for equitable distribution of ancestral property among siblings, both male and female

Matrilineal system in Meghalaya 

  • The three tribes of Meghalaya (Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos) practise a matrilineal system of inheritance.

  • In this system, lineage and descent are traced through the mother’s clan. In other words, children take the mother’s surname, the husband moves into his wife’s house, and the youngest daughter (khatduh) of the family is bequeathed the full share of the ancestral (or the clan’s) property. 

  • The khatduh becomes the “custodian” of the land, and assumes all responsibility associated with the land, including taking care of aged parents, unmarried or destitute siblings. 

  • Custom also dictates that the khatduh cannot sell the property, without permission of her mother’s brother (maternal uncle) — since he technically belongs to the mother’s clan, through which descent is traced. 

  • This inheritance tradition applies only to ancestral or clan/community property, which has been with the family for years. On the other hand, self-acquired property can be distributed equally among siblings

  • In this traditional set-up, if a couple does not have any daughters, then the property goes to the wife’s elder sister, and her daughters.

  • If the wife does not have sisters, then the clan usually takes over the property. 

Features of the bill

  • It is aimed at “equitable distribution” of parental property among siblings(both male & Female) in the Khasi community. 

  • It would let parents decide who they want their property to.

  • It prevents a sibling from getting parental property if they marry a non-Khasi and accept the spouse’s customs and culture.

  • If implemented, the proposed Bill would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.

Implications of the system

  • The system “disinherits” men, and denies equitable property distribution between all children in the family.

  • Boys are not able to take loans because there is no collateral to show.

  • When a couple has no children, and there is no genuine heir, the clan takes over the property, as per custom.

  • It leads to a number of litigations by children against their parents.

  • Only about 35-38% of women own property in the state; because most of the property is clan property or community property.

Impact

  • This would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.

  • The legislation is aimed at economic empowerment based on the principle of equitable distribution of property.

Conclusion

If implemented, the proposed Bill would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe and will give equal representation.

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