Khasi council order on father’s surname sets off war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya

This article highlights the controversy in matrilineal Meghalaya which revolves around the tribal council’s order regarding Khasis and their surnames.(Source: The Hindu , 17th May, 2023)

What is the context?

A tribal council in matrilineal Meghalaya sparked a controversy by ordering not to issue Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificates to Khasis who adopt their father’s surname.

What is the controversy in matrilineal Meghalaya regarding Khasis and their surnames?
A tribal council in matrilineal Meghalaya has ordered not to issue Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificates to Khasis who adopt their father’s surname. This directive by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) has sparked a debate and disagreement within the Khasi community.
Who is opposing the order and why?
The Voice of the People Party (VPP), a political entity that won four Assembly seats in the recent election. It strongly opposes the KHADC’s order. VPP President Ardent Miller  defends the right of his children to be recognized as Khasis, even if they use his surname.
What is the rationale behind the council’s order?
The KHADC justifies the order by referring to the Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997. According to the act, only those who adhere to the tradition of using their mother’s surname can be identified as Khasis.
What is the wider debate surrounding surnames and lineage?
The controversy has brought attention to the ongoing debate among Khasis regarding the lineage system and the role of surnames. Some men’s rights activists have been advocating for a shift from the matrilineal system to a patrilineal one since the 1960s. Organizations like Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai continue to push for restructuring traditional norms.
What are the implications of this issue?
The issue raises questions about the significance and implications of surnames within the Khasi community. It highlights the complexities of maintaining cultural traditions while accommodating evolving societal perspectives. The debate also reflects the challenges of balancing identity, gender equality, and cultural heritage in a changing world.

The Khasi council’s order on surnames in matrilineal Meghalaya reveals the complexities of cultural traditions and evolving societal perspectives. The clash between the council’s directive and the VPP’s opposition emphasizes the importance of recognizing individual rights and identities within the Khasi community.

Way ahead: To address this issue, open dialogue and understanding among stakeholders are crucial. The Khasi community and tribal council should engage in constructive discussions to find a middle ground. It should respect both tradition and individual choices. Reviewing the Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997, can ensure its relevance and inclusivity in the present context.

Furthermore, efforts should be made to raise awareness and educate the public about the significance and value of cultural heritage. Simultaneously, it is important to acknowledge the importance of personal autonomy and individual rights. This approach can help foster a more inclusive and progressive society that appreciates diversity and respects individual choices.

It is essential to strike a balance between preserving cultural traditions and embracing societal changes. Embracing a nuanced approach and encouraging dialogue is essential for matrilineal Meghalaya to navigate the controversy. By doing so, the region can emerge stronger and promote harmonious coexistence between tradition and modernity.