Thursday, July 7, 2022

The People

» Society » Law


One prominent feature of society in this region is the comparative freedom that women enjoy albeit in different degrees. This trait is more characteristic of the Mongoloid races of South-East Asia.

Just as North-East Indian society can be classified as either Aryan-based or Mongoloid. Within the so-called Mongoloid communities themselves, distinction must be made between those that are matrilineal as in Meghalaya and those that are patrilineal as in the rest of the tribal areas of this region.

The institution of bride-price does not exist in a matrilineal society like that of the Garos and Khasi, Pnars presumably because of its incompatibility with a system in which the woman plays a more important role in the social system than the man. This is often exaggerated and women themselves would be the last to arrogate to themselves the role of matriarchs. To the uninitiated, the idea that they "rule the roost" is a favourite one and others are led to believe that here, woman lay down the law for the family to follow.  Women is accorded respect as one through whom the race or more precisely the clan is propagated, but in recognition of the fact that her commitments as mother and housewife are a fulltime occupation. Responsibilities relating to regulation of the family are entrusted to men-folk.

Among the Garos, male blood relations or Mahari exercise control over affairs of the family and even in matters effecting women. In arrangements of marriage, for instance, women are not consulted though male-in-laws often are.  In relation to property though, it is inherited in female line. It is always managed by the male Mahari.

Among the Khasi-Pnar, household responsibilities are shared between the maternal uncle and the father. The father earns for his own wife and children but in matters affecting the clan or the family, such as the arrangement of marriages, management of ancestral property and performance of religious duties, it is the uncle who makes the decisions though generally in consultations with other members of the family. Thus there is a virtual three fold division of family responsibility- the mother looks after the hearth and home, the father provides all that is necessary for the maintenance of his wife and children and the uncle attends to the business affairs that come before the family. A man does not forego membership in his own clan after marriage. His position in his wife's house is that of 'being in it, but not of it'.  The impact of modernism and of other cultures has no doubt eroded the maternal uncle's authority but, by and large the convention is still honoured.

In Khasi society, the husband (the father) is isolated from his wife and children in such social matters. In non-Christian families, even in death, his bones  must not lie with  those of his wife and children. It  must be deposited in a separate ossuary with those of his maternal or blood relations.  In well-organised families, the duties of the father and those of the uncle are clearly defined. Troubles, if and when they arise, are caused by intrusion of one into the sphere that properly belongs to the other. This isolation of the husband from the wife's family is carried to a greater length among the Pnars, especially in orthodox families.  Often the husband may only be at his wife's home during the night. By morning, he is out to return to his maternal home. There alone, he can act freely.

In Meghalaya, women enjoy great  freedom and independence. Many look after their own interest and earn their livelihood with success.  Although as a rule they have no direct say in communal matters, in their own families, they exert a good deal in influence.  The Institution of "nok-na" among Garos or Khadduh among Khasi-Pnars confers general advantage upon the community in that at least in theory it assures protection to every member of the family.