A Woman’s World

Parimita Barooah Bora
Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 8, is International Women’s Day. A national holiday in some countries, this is the day set aside to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women. Of course, just mentioning the day’s existence prompts some to ask “well, why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?” Most countries around the world celebrate it as a holiday while other countries host parades and set aside time to honor women. TV Channels showing special programmes on women; Special advertisement on women; messages on what sup, face book, phone circulated; airlines wooing women travelers with discounts and all-women crew flights to mark the International Women's Day. Even Google celebrated the Day with an interactive doodle on its home page that is displayed starting March 7 till March 9. All of a sudden people realize on a particular day that women must enjoy their rightful place in society, be treated with respect and dignity, and should feel safe and secure at all times. That, we must banish discrimination in all its forms and the people who practice it. Women's empowerment, health and education become important for the development of our society. History is witness to the fact that successful women have helped in building progressive societies. Women today should have all the freedom to choose any role they wish to play, be it homemakers, professionals or even super-successful CEOs.

But the fact remains, if women truly were treated as equals, valued for our contributions, respected for our ideas, and not assumed to be inferior or incapable in any way, then there would not need to be a day to bring attention to the achievements of women. If women commonly weren’t passed over for jobs, paid less for doing the same work as men, mocked for trying to get ahead, and told that they are only worthwhile as nurturers or pleasure-providers then perhaps the reminders of what women are capable of wouldn’t matter.

In such a social set-up , do you think there still exist matrilineal society? Yes, it’s still existing in our very own Meghalaya, the “Scotland of the East”. India's northeast is an eclectic medley of tradition, ethnicity and cultural heritage. Popularly known as the Seven Sisters, the states Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are treasure troves of a heady mix of race and rituals. Each state has its own remarkable and distinguishing features. But Meghalaya with its unique legacy of a matrilineal society; a heritage that sets it apart from all the other states of not only the northeast but that of the entire country. In a far corner of India, a country where women usually have to cry out for equality, respect and protection, there’s a state where women organize society and everything works better. The two major tribes of Meghalaya; Khasis and Jaintias, are very matrilineal. Their matrilineal society is the icing on the cake of Meghalaya's endless list of treasures. When most states of India are busy shunning the girl child by committing female feticide, participating in bride burning, demanding dowry or in short persecuting the weaker sex, Meghalaya is the only state that is holding a flame, a beacon of hope by putting the weaker sex on a strong pedestal of society. This is the state where woman power is at its peak.

Children take mother’s surname; daughters inherit the family property with the youngest getting the lion’s share and most business are run by women. Known as the “Khatduh”, the youngest daughter anchors the family, looking after elderly parents, giving shelter and care to unmarried brothers and sisters, watching over property. If the youngest daughter dies, the property is transmitted to the next youngest in age. Such a legacy has empowered the Khasi woman to enjoy a position of importance and dignity. In a Khasi marriage it is usual for the husband to live with his wife in his mother in law's house. He does not take his wife home as is customary in other communities. Whatever the wife earns is meant for her mother's house, which is expected to support the entire family. If a man marries a woman of a particular clan his children take the title of that clan therefore there is no illegitimate child in Khasi society as the children take their mother's title. In case of divorce, the man moves back to his mother’s or sister’s house with nothing but does not pay alimony for his children. The Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act protects the matrilineal structure. Some trace the origins of the system to Khasi and Jaintia kings, who preferred to entrust the household to their queens when they went to battle. This custom has continued to provide women the pride of place in the tribal society.

In Meghalaya, women enjoy great freedom and independence. Many look after their own interest and earn their livelihood with great success. Although as a rule they have no direct say in communal matters, in their own families, they exert a good deal of influence. However, from the above one can conclude that women’s emancipation is evident in all its glory in Meghalaya’s unique women centric society.

Parimita Barooah Bora is a onetime lecturer and currently she is a stay-at-home mom. Having done her post graduation in English, Education and Travel n Tourism, she taught for few years until her relocation to Kuwait. She likes to share the experiences of her life as a freelance contributor to various newspapers, magazines and websites. Now, as a freelance writer and teaching children in the evenings at home keeps her busy. Member of IWIK Team.
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