Motherdom’s Prodigals

Meghalaya is India inverted. At least, when it comes to the gender of a child. Unlike the rest of the country, where a male child is supposedly the most coveted gift a married woman can wish for, among the Khasis of the state, it is the exact opposite. Here the woman normally prays for a daughter. After all, the youngest daughter ensures the continuity of the clan. Known as katduh, she’s not only supposed to be the custodian of ancestral property but is also responsible for looking after her parents and other old and infirm members of her clan. Performing their last rites is also her duty. This makes the matrilineal Khasi society unique in the Indian context.

Such uniqueness is no longer without its perils, though. The ‘modern’ Khasi male is no longer willing to play second fiddle. Over the past 10 years, a small group of Khasi men—united under the banner of Synkhong Rympei Thymmai (srt), which literally means the Association for Reformation of the Family Structure—is waging a crusade to change the Khasi society. Says srt president Keith Pariat: “The Khasi man is sinking morally and intellectually since he has no authority in the family. Khasi women are no longer interested in marrying Khasi men. Inter-ethnic marriages have increased. The survival of the Khasi society is at stake. We’re trying to avoid just that.”