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Home > News > Report

Matrilineal Meghalaya has
few women politicians

G Vinayak in Shillong | February 14, 2003 10:19 IST

For a society that boasts of a matrilineal system, the three tribes in Meghalaya -- Khasis, Garos and Jaintias -- do not seem to have much faith in having women legislators.

At least that is the impression one gathers in the run-up to the elections to the 60-member assembly scheduled for February 26.

Of the 333 candidates in the fray, only 14 are women, a pathetically low number.

Among the Khasis, the youngest daughter ensures continuity of the clan. Known as katduh, she is not only supposed to be the custodian of the ancestral property, but is responsible for looking after her parents and other old and infirm members of the clan. Performing the last rites of the aged is also her duty.

And yet, when it comes to giving women a role in politics, Meghalaya seems to be strangely reluctant.

In the outgoing assembly for instance, there are only three women legislators -- Debora C Marak, Maysalin War and Rosan Warjri.

Of the 14 women candidates for the forthcoming polls, four have been nominated by the Congress and two each by the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Regional parties and independents make up the rest.

The state is yet to send a woman to Parliament.

None of the stalwarts of Meghalaya politics have an answer for this.

A prominent women's activist and member of a renowned non-governmental organisation, Northeast Network, Darilyn Syiem, said: "There is no easy explanation for this glaring discrimination but it basically stems from the social-gender construct prevalent in our society. Women do not want to be a part of the corruption and scandal-ridden electoral politics that exists in Meghalaya."

Syiem spoke about a survey that her organisation had conducted in 1999 in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Fifty per cent of the women surveyed said they were not interested in electoral politics.

"Basically, women think that politics is not their cup of tea," Syiem said.

Linda Chakchuak, publisher of Grassroots Options, an authoritative publication on development issues in the Northeast, said: "Although society in Meghalaya is theoretically matriarchal, in practice men have all the economic power and therefore the ability to control politics. Since women do not have economic power, they lack confidence to step into politics."

Even now, the village councils or dorbars do not have women in decision-making positions.

Another prominent commentator on societal aspects and a Padmashree winner, Patricia Mukhim, wrote in one of her columns: "Another factor that prevents women from coming forward and demanding political space is that they are not groomed to take part in public discourses as a matter of tradition.

"Though the Khasis and Garos have unique features of a highly evolved democratic grassroots institution called the dorbar, a woman is not allowed to participate in it. She can articulate her views to the male members of her household who present them in the dorbar."

"A woman has been made to feel that the home is her realm, her domain. Without her it will collapse. She is told that no one manages the kitchen better than her, and that bringing up the children is her prime responsibility since the man is the breadwinner. Sadly, women too acquiesce in that belief."

More reports from Meghalaya

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Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: matrilineal but not matriachal

The Khasi society is very much matrilineal but not I repeat matriachal as pointed out by Linda C Lorna

Posted by lorna


It is incorrect to say that women in Meghalaya do not have economic power, especially in the urban areas. Most families have both parents working ...

Posted by Cathleen


Mrs. Bonily Khongmen was an MP

Posted by



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