I Am A Khasi Woman, And No Bill Can Take Away My Identity
– Emarine Kharbhih
Dear leaders, members and office bearers of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council,
I am a woman from Shillong in my mid-twenties born to a Khasi mother and a non-Khasi father. My family members never followed my father or grandfather’s religion. Rather, I have been taught to proudly display the practice of a matrilineal society whenever and wherever I represent myself outside the state of Meghalaya. I have spent most of my time outside the state and I have always asserted my identity as a Khasi and how my future children will carry my Khasi lineage as a way of making people understand the power of Khasi women and how beautiful this society is.
I have a Scheduled Tribe certificate but have never used it after becoming an adult and that piece of paper is lying somewhere in my cupboard. I don’t look at it anymore because, over the years, I have become a privileged woman and find it so unfair to take advantage of it. Although I may not use this Scheduled Tribe certificate, I still keep it because it gives me a sense of my identity which I strongly hold on to. It gives me a sense of belongingness and makes me believe that I am a part of a Khasi society regardless of whether I attend clan meetings or communion gatherings. It gives me a sense of security that no one can take my identity away from me and that my future children too will get a sense of belongingness and identity through this document.
In all my past relationships with non-Khasi men, I have always told them that no matter who I get married to or where I start living, I will always be a Khasi and that my children will carry my lineage forward and not the identity of whoever I get married to.
I deeply understand this sense of insecurity and the threat that comes with the invasion of people in the society who take advantage of the Scheduled Tribe certificate and how the right people of the community do not reap such benefits. For instance, if a Khasi woman is married to a non-Khasi man and the husband uses the document to evade tax or get schemes by doing business under the wife’s name while the poor tribals are still disadvantaged. I really hope this is what the new bill aims to focus on and that the typist in your office has misconstrued some grammar and lines in the bill which make it looks regressive and patriarchal! I also understand that English is not our mother tongue, even I end up making errors and somehow end up saying something I don’t mean. It’s never too late to correct some grammatical errors and gender stereotypes here and there. At the end of the day, humans err!
However, if the Khasi Social Customs of Lineage (Second Amendment) Bill 2018 really means to outrage the identity of Khasi women and her children because of a non-Khasi wedlock, then shame on you! It defeats the core idea of a matrilineal society and is exactly an amalgamation of a narrow-mindedness which can never truly protect the Khasi society. After a few years, the word Khasi will no longer exist. So tell me, are you still sure that you are rightly protecting the people and preventing this silent invasion of non-Khasis?
I also have another apprehension towards this bill. This new bill chooses to only target women with a justification that in the future even tangjait (Khasi men marrying non-Khasi women) will also be rejected or denounced. I strongly believe that such deep patriarchy should not exist, I don’t expect my leaders to have this ideology. If we want to develop the society, then we should include all people and work towards preserving custom, culture and identity without bias. We need to really analyse if such amendments will really preserve the Khasi society because I honestly feel suffocated, vulnerable and insecure of my identity in front of this staunch Hindutva-like idea of yours. I may even start shaming the bill amongst my peers, colleagues, friends, family and to the people I often meet outside Meghalaya on personal and professional platforms. Can you see me as your daughter and think deeply about what this bill will do to me and my future identity?
Lastly, I think that if the very idea of equity doesn’t sit right in our minds then I am only banging my head against the wall. I also strongly believe in applying this ideology of equity because a domino effect will happen where the right and the disadvantaged people will reap the benefits and not the economically privileged Khasi people in the society. Wasn’t KHADC formed with the idea of uplifting the lives of the tribals?
Nevertheless, I am moving forward after writing this letter with an open heart and mind that you will rethink this bill or that the Governor will not give assent to it. I am also equally determined that I will not let a small group of people or ‘guardians’ of culture and tradition decide my fate and that of many Khasi women out there. And if ever I marry a non-Khasi, my future children will be Khasis and I will teach them to carry forward the torch of a matrilineal society. I will tell them the stories my grandmother told me about being a Khasi woman and how a woman’s voice is so important in a family and community because they bring the family together and are caretakers of ancestral values and material property which is then reaped by the future generation of a society. And along with this, I will teach my children equity with a value to love and hold each other together in a world where conformity is so rapid while people are losing their identity of uniqueness.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org