In most parts of India, men outnumber women on the streets, in the offices and social gatherings too. Generally men serve in restaurants, sell items on roads/shops and generally dominate the social fabric. Women are a lot lesser to find roaming on roads and tend to move around in small protective groups. Over the years India has kept its staunchly patriarchal attitude due to which sons are preferred over daughters. The main reason being sons stay connected with the parents and their houses/ jobs even after their marriages while daughters leave and become the property of their husband's family.
The preference given to sons is equally visible in Indian languages where women is equated with being a burden to the father, others' possession (PARAYA DHAN) and so on. According to a Bengali saying " Caring for a daughter is like watering a neighbour's tree." That's why the skit and the complete cast was an instant hit amongst the teenagers as they found the whole dream sequence witty and humourous. We all were completely unaware of the existence of any such land within India which lived the dream as a reality day in and out.As a newcomer to Shillong, when I tried to enquire about the popular means of road transport in the steep hills, I was promptly told by my friends that nothing could beat the black and yellow coloured Maruti 800 Taxis which ferried men and women from remote Bastis to the crowded lanes of Police Bazar. I was told that these taxis could carry as many people as decided by the driver alongside loads of veggies and other items simultaneously. I didn’t like the idea because coming from mainland India, this meant going through another experience of being stalked and lynched by the opposite sex! But, to my surprise I found it was just the opposite! Even the completely drugged/drunk men knew how to be seated next to you in a sober way, which reminded me of being in one of the few places in the world where Matriliny was still surviving. The few other communities following Matriliny in the world are:
1.Isthmus Zapotec community in Mexico
2. Minangkabau community in Indonesia
3. Mosuo community in China
4. Nayyar communities in Kerala in India
I was elated at the thought of the effect of Matriarchy prevalent in the state. I was corrected by a local resident and introduced to the unique concept of Matrilineal society of the Khasi tribals of Meghalaya in India. Though the terms are not completely synonymous, there are similarities between both as the women are considered to be central in issues related to descent, inheritance and authority. Anthropologists use different terms to describe cultures where women play a strong role in societies, such as:
But then a local saying popular amongst the non-tribal taxi drivers of Shillong, " You can never depend on three 'W's of Shillong: weather, wine and women." forced me to think about the evolving meaning of Matriliny in Meghalaya in today's world.
Read about what Khasi Men have to say about it in my next blog.