A district autonomous council in Meghalaya recently announced that it would introduce the ‘Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021. The Bill has brought into focus the practice of matriliny in Meghalaya.
What does matriliny in Meghalaya entail?
The three tribes of Meghalaya – Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos – practise a matrilineal system of inheritance.
- Lineage and descent are traced through the mother’s clan.
- Children take the mother’s surname.
- The husband moves into his wife’s house.
- The youngest daughter (khatduh) of the family is bequeathed the full share of the ancestral (or the clan’s) property.
- The khatduh becomes the “custodian” of the land and assumes all responsibility associated with the land.
- The khatduh cannot sell the property, without permission of her mother’s brother (maternal uncle) – since he technically belongs to the mother’s clan, through which descent is traced.
- This inheritance tradition applies only to ancestral or clan/community property, which has been with the family for years.
- The self-acquired property can be distributed equally among siblings.
- In this traditional set-up, if a couple does not have any daughters, then the property goes to the wife’s elder sister, and her daughters.
- If the wife does not have sisters, then the clan usually takes over the property.
Autonomous district councils
The sixth schedule to the Constitution includes 10 autonomous district councils in 4 states. These are:
1. Assam: Bodoland Territorial Council, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council.
2. Meghalaya: Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council and Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council.
3. Tripura: Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
4. Mizoram: Chakma Autonomous District Council, Lai Autonomous District Council, Mara Autonomous District Council.
As per the Sixth Schedule, the four states viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram contain the Tribal Areas which are technically different from the Scheduled Areas.
Though these areas fall within the executive authority of the state, provision has been made for the creation of the District Councils and regional councils for the exercise of the certain legislative and judicial powers.
Each district is an autonomous district and Governor can modify / divide the boundaries of the said Tribal areas by notification.
Constitution of District Councils and Regional Councils:
ü There shall be a District Council for each autonomous district consisting of not more than thirty members, of whom not more than four persons shall be nominated by the Governor and the rest shall be elected on the basis of adult suffrage.
ü There shall be a separate Regional Council for each area constituted an autonomous region.
ü Each District Council and each Regional Council shall be a body corporate by the name respectively of the District Council of (name of district) and the Regional Council of (name of region), shall have perpetual succession and a common seal and shall by the said name sue and be sued.
What does the Bill envisage?
- “Equitable distribution” of parental property among siblings in the Khasi community – both male and female.
- Let parents decide who they want to will their property to.
- Prevent a sibling from getting parental property if they marry a non-Khasi and accept the spouse’s customs and culture.
- If implemented, this would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.