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Khasi Women who Marry Non-Khasi May Lose ST Benefits

Khasi Women
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As per the customary laws under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, a Bill was passed that seeks to declare Khasi women who marry outside the tribe as non-Khasi, and that they would be removed from their Scheduled Tribe status and the constitutional protections that come with it. The same would also apply to the children born from such marriages. This is an effective initiative towards bringing in uniformity in the reservation system.

The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Second Amendment Bill states: “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 Bill defines a non-Khasi as “a person not belonging to indigenous Khasi Tribe classified as Scheduled Tribe under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribe) Order, 1950 (Part III – Rules and Orders Under the Constitution) Part XI – Meghalaya”.

Activist Angela Rangad said that the Bill was antithetical to the “very foundations of the Khasi society” it claimed to protect as it went “completely against the matrilineal structure of the Khasis”. In the Khasi matrilineal society, children take their mother’s last name and customary laws say that all the wealth or property of parents should be inherited only by daughters. Rangad added, “If the council really wants to protect Khasi culture, they should strengthen local self-governance institutions at the grassroots level and check the control of a small section of the tribal elite over land. Instead, they are targeting women.” However, the Khasi council’s chief executive member His preaching Son Shylla, who introduced the Bill, defended it, insisting that it was a long-pending initiative to “save the tiny Khasi tribe that is on the very verge of extinction”.

Many see it as a move to secure land within the community. The transfer of land to non-tribals is strictly regulated in Meghalaya, but the state’s people have often complained that non-tribals are increasingly acquiring control over land by marrying tribal women. Donald V Thabah of the nationalist Khasi Students’ Union said, “The Bill will curtail the designs of those non-tribals, whose sole objective is to do business in the Khasi hills using the name of their Khasi wives. I doubt there will be anyone, with the exception of a few people who are always anti-Khasi, who will oppose the Bill.” Social scientist Walter Fernandes said that a culture of “strong patriarchy” was building up in the North East, traditionally known to have more gender-equal social structures. Even though laws like the Meghalaya Land Regulation exists, this has not been fully effective. Shylla said that land is there and it could be transferred indirectly to the non -khasi’s through marriage to khasi women but we don’t want this to continue.