Women’s bodies in Meghalaya have expressed their strong opposition to the bill passed by Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) that proposes to deprive Khasi women of their tribal status and all accompanying privileges if they marry outside their tribe.
Pointing out that the bill reeks of gender bias and is discriminatory in nature, several women’s organizations are contemplating moving court against the bill, reported TOI.
Slamming the legislation as “insensitive”, Meghalaya state women’s commission chairperson, Theilin Phanbuh, said on Friday that KHADC should have arranged for a public debate on the issue before tabling the bill. ”
The bill portrays a gender bias as it talks only about women and chooses to remain silent about men who choose to marry a non-tribal woman,” TOI quoted Phanbuh as saying.
The Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Khasi Social Custom of Lineage) (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which was unanimously passed by KHADC on Thursday, states, “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 lose the Khasi status and all privileges and benefits as a member of the Khasi Tribe who cannot claim preferential privileges under any law… A person not belonging 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 anti-mixed marriage legislation will be applicable in the three districts of West Khasi Hills district, East Khasi Hills district and Ri-Bhoi districts, which are under the jurisdiction of KHADC. The legislation will come into force after receiving the governor’s assent, followed by a gazette notification.
Agnes Kharshiing, president of the Civil Society Women’s Organization (CSWO), also joined the voices of opposition against the bill.
She pointed out that women have the fundamental right to marry the person of their choice and the legislation is aimed at “ostracising” women. She also expressed her doubt on if the bill would stand in a court of law.
Meanwhile, KHADC chief executive member HS Shylla continued to express his support for the bill. “The bill lays down guidelines to protect the Khasi social custom of lineage. It will go a long way in preserving the traditional matrilineal system of our society”.
He also claimed that this will be a strong deterrent to “unscrupulous” people claiming Khasi status “purely for its benefits and privilege”.
Shylla had earlier defended the bill arguing that constitutional measures have not been able to protect the indigenous rights of the Khasi people from immigrants.
“We are witnessing a silent invasion. Existing laws like the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation), by which the state government controls land use and transfer, have not been effective. Land can still be transferred to non-tribals through marriage (to a tribal Khasi woman). We don’t want that to continue. The legislation was necessary, to prevent the small Khasi population from going extinct,” he had told TOI on Thursday.
Defending the bill from allegations of gender bias against it, he had added, “The law does not bar any Khasi girl from marrying a non-Khasi tribal. She would only cease to claim the benefits and privileges of a Khasi tribal if she marries a non-Khasi. Children born out of such mixed marriages also cannot claim any benefits and privileges accorded to a tribal.”