Khasi council draws flak for Bill on tribal women

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Shillong, July 27 (PTI): A Bill passed recently by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) to “protect the lineage and indigenousness” of its tribe has come in the eye of storm, with several women’s organizations on Friday voicing their opposition to its provisions.

On July 25, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) – one of the three self-governing bodies in Meghalaya – passed a legislation that aims to strip a Khasi woman of her tribal status once she marries an outsider.

The legislation – Khasi Hills Autonomous District  (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) (Second Amendment) Bill – also entails that children born out of the mixed marriage would not be able to enjoy the constitutional protections that come with the tribal status.

“Any Khasi woman who marries a Non-Khasi as well as her offspring(s) born out of such marriage(s) shall be deemed as Non-Khasi, who shall (then) lose the Khasi status and all privileges and benefits as a member of the Khasi Tribe who cannot claim preferential privileges under any law,” it said.

The Bill, a copy of which is with the PTI, defines non-Khasi man as “a person who does not belong to indigenous Khasi Tribe classified as Scheduled Tribe under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribe) Order, 1950 (Part III – Rules and Orders Under the Constitution) Part XI – Meghalaya”.

The hill state of Meghalaya is divided into three autonomous councils – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. The legislation, if approved by the governor, will be applicable in West Khasi Hills, East Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi – the districts that come under the purview of KHADC.

Terming the Bill “insensitive”, Meghalaya State Women’s Commission chairperson Theilin Phanbuh on Friday said the council should have arranged for a public debate on the matter before tabling the Bill.

“The Bill is gender-biased as it talks only about women. What about men who chose to marry a non-tribal wife?  This is a sensitive issue,” she said.

Echoing similar sentiments, Agnes Kharshiing, the president of a civil society organisation, said marriage is a fundamental right of every person and the KHADC move is aimed at “ostracizing” women.

“Does this Bill stand the legal tests? I have a serious doubt about it,” she said. Several women’s organisations here have also threatened to move court against the Bill.

Defending the Bill, KHADC chief executive member H S Shylla said the move is aimed at protecting their lineage. “The Bills is targeted at providing a rule to protect the ‘Khasi Social Custom of Lineage’. It would go a long way in preserving the traditional matrilineal system of society.”

Shylla also alleged that “unscrupulous persons” often claim Khasi status, “purely for its benefits and privileges”.”Those opposing the move hail from urban areas. In the tribal belts, organizations, including Khasi Students Union, have come out in support of the Bill,” he added.

DV Thabah, the president of Khasi Students Union, said non-indigenous residents have taken advantages over the years by settling down with a tribal woman “to escape” the provisions of Meghalaya Land Transfer Act, which prevents them from owning land here.

“We welcome the Bill. It is important to curtail the influx of outsiders, who marry tribal women for the sake of owning land and doing business here.” According to the 2011 Census, around 1.4 million Khasis reside in Meghalaya.

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