KHADC Khasi Lineage Bill

A Bill that seeks to bring radical societal changes cannot be passed in haste. The Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act 1997, which was passed by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in March 1997, and received the Governor’s assent in February, 2005 was recently amended to add two rigid clauses relating to marriage of a Khasi woman to a non-Khasi man. The latest amendments seek to strip a woman who marries a non-Khasi and her off-springs of their Khasi and Schedule Tribe status. Under Para 3 of the Sixth Schedule the District Councils can makes laws on marriage, divorce and social customs but  those laws must stand judicial scrutiny and must be compliant with the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Archaic customs and traditions of the past which have suppressed women’s rights cannot be brought in as baggage if they violate the principle tenets of the Constitution.

In a matrilineal society where lineage is from the mother’s clan line this amended Bill has serious and far reaching ramifications. It means that if the Bill is passed there could be many women and children who would no longer be Khasis because they have, in effect, been socially ostracised. The 29 Councillors who have passed the Bill have trotted out a weak argument that it does not infringe into the Constitutional rights of a woman to marry anyone she chooses. But they then show their fangs by putting a rider that if a woman marries a non-Khasi she does do so at the risk of losing her Khasi identity and with it the concessions she enjoys as a Scheduled Tribes. So the precondition set before women today is that if they want to continue to be Khasi and enjoy the ST benefits they should marry a Khasi male. But is marriage so transactional and emotionless? The very term marriage is a mutual desire of a man and a woman to share their lives, and if they choose to, then to give birth to offsprings. No one in their right minds and certainly not a Constitutionally created  institution like the District Council should venture into something as private and personal as a marriage.

More than anything else this hastily passed Bill was not even debated and put up for public scrutiny. So the question is why the haste? The answer is clear. More than a genuine concern for the Khasi society it is self-serving politics of those in the Khasi Hills District Council who will be seeking re-election in early 2019, which weighs more heavily. This is where the real problem lies.

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