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The Façade of a Matrilineal Society

The Façade of a Matrilineal Society

Emarine Kharbih

While comprehending a matrilineal society, especially in a State like Meghalaya, one is often led to believe that women and children have a stronger hold in society and are treated with much more respect and adoration. However over the years, it has been observed that women and children in Meghalaya have been subjected to every kind of violence, such as rape and torture, especially in rural areas where matrilineal traditions still holds strong value. 
The interior areas of West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills have reported an alarming rise of rape incidents upon women and children, as per the number of such cases reported to the police. The sad part is that most of these cases go unreported and hidden from the purview of society at large.
Pynshailang (name changed), a 21-year-old differently-abled woman from Khliehmawlieh, Nongstoin, West Khasi Hills had been raped repeatedly by her own relative in the recent past. This sounds implausible in a matrilineal society and sounds quite similar to what happens in mainland India. Or take the case of a 10-year-old girl getting raped by a 14-year-old boy in a village called Mawsawa, Mawsynram, East Khasi Hills in the recent past. Ironical, isn't it? There are many more such strange cases which are increasing at an alarming rate in Meghalaya. 
There are various factors that make the interiors of Meghalaya more vulnerable and unsafe for women and children than those living in urban areas. For one, poverty is the main culprit. In most cases, it is poverty that paralyses the family, preventing them from reporting the incident to the police and making them negotiate with the accused to keep shut. 
Another factor is the threats or intimidation that the culprits resort to. On most such occasions, the culprits often tend to get away with their threats because of money power. 
All this results in tremendous fear amongst the people in general and keeps them from reporting such incidents to the police or making such incidents public.
Further, people in the interiors of Meghalaya still believe that legal help is an expensive affair. Fear of high costs keeps the people away from reporting such criminal acts to the law enforcement agencies. 
Ironically, the State Legal Service Authority and District Legal Service Authority were set up to provide free legal aid to the weaker section of society! However, not many are aware of this provision.
Moreover, very few people avail the support provided under the Meghalaya Victim Compensation Scheme 2014, such as Medical Aid, Counselling, Vocational Training or monetary support of Rs 3 lacs for rape survivors and the family. 
Furthermore, illiteracy prevents people from reporting cases or taking any further action because there is no sense of understanding among the community about how rape is a form of violence that one should not submit to. And, to make it worse, most are stigmatised to accept such happenings. 
Most importantly, the policing system in the rural areas is not widespread in the interiors and they cannot assist the victim's family immediately. It has also been observed that most of the police stations are always empty because most of the officers are on leave or are unwilling to be stationed in remote areas. 
It is because the remuneration given to the police officials is not equivalent to the amount of time or energy that they have to devote to their jobs. Hence, they are selective about the cases they wish to assist or dismiss. 
It is perplexing to learn that most police stations do not even have stationeries such as pen or paper to write an FIR, let alone computers. They ask an individual registering an FIR to write it on their own stationary and submit it to them, which further acts as a deterrent for families from illiterate backgrounds to approach the Police Stations. 
Another horrendous situation arises when the police officials somehow misinterprets their role or responsibility, and becomes judgemental of an individual's character and acts subjectively on a rape case, rather than performing the role of \investigating officers whose job is to provide evidence to the court. 
The Law Enforcement Agencies in remote areas are not technologically equipped as well.
Rape survivors or rape victims also do not have any support system in the form of medical assistance. 
The Primary Health Centres have few or no staff members and medical equipment. As such, they have no means of providing medical support to rape survivors or collect evidence of rape. In such situations, rape survivors need to travel to the Shillong Public Hospital for evidence collection and proper medical assistance. 
The legal system of the country also contradicts itself when it comes to making laws on violence against women and children. Although rape is a non-bailable offence, the accused can receive bail after three months under the court's discretion on various grounds. 
With so many rape cases pending in courts, establishment of fast track courts is also of no aid since there have been a number of false convictions and justice is not given to rape survivors in the true sense.