Nepal – the country of the Buddha and the Mt. Everest

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without – Buddha

Meghalaya, India: Where women rule, and men are suffragettes

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on January 20, 2012


By Timothy Allen

In the small hilly Indian state of Meghalaya, a matrilineal system operates with property names and wealth passing from mother to daughter rather than father to son – but some men are campaigning for change.

When early European settlers first arrived here they nicknamed it “the Scotland of the East” on account of its evocative rolling hills.

Coincidentally, today the bustling market in the state capital, Shillong, is awash with tartan in the form of the traditional handloom shawls worn ubiquitously since the autumn chill arrived.

Not far from here the village of Cherrapunji once measured an astonishing 26.5m (87ft) of rain in one year, a fact still acknowledged by the Guinness book as a world record.

But the rainy season is over for the time being and it is Meghalaya’s other major claim to fame that I am here to investigate.

It appears that some age-old traditions have been ruffling a few feathers of late, causing the views of a small band of male suffragettes to gain in popularity, reviving some rather outspoken opinions originally started by a small group of intellectuals in the 1960s.

I am sitting across a table from Keith Pariat, President of Syngkhong-Rympei-Thymmai, Meghalaya’s very own men’s rights movement.

He is quick to assure me that he and his colleagues “do not want to bring women down,” as he puts it. “We just want to bring the men up to where the women are.”

Mr Pariat, who ignored age-old customs by taking his father’s surname is adamant that matriliny is breeding generations of Khasi men who fall short of their inherent potential, citing alcoholism and drug abuse among its negative side-effects.

“If you want to know how much the Khasis favour women just take a trip to the labour ward at the hospital,” he says.

“If it’s a girl, there will be great cheers from the family outside. If it’s a boy, you will hear them mutter politely that, ‘Whatever God gives us is quite all right.'”

Mr Pariat cites numerous examples of how his fellow brethren are being demoralised. These include a fascinating theory involving the way that gender in the local Khasi language reflects these basic cultural assumptions.

“A tree is masculine, but when it is turned into wood, it becomes feminine,” he begins.

“The same is true of many of the nouns in our language. When something becomes useful, its gender becomes female.

“Matriliny breeds a culture of men who feel useless.”

I talk to Patricia Mukkum, the well-respected editor of Shillong’s daily newspaper. She assures me that her heritage is only one of the reasons why she has risen to the level she has and points out that the tradition of excluding women from the political decision making process is still very strong in their culture.

@BBC

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