The Khasi matriarchy in India | DW Documentary

The Khasi matriarchy in India | DW Documentary

The Khasis are one of the few matrilineal societies in the world. Children receive their mother’s name, and husbands move into their wife’s home. But what is the Khasis’ stance towards gender equality?

Every morning Banisha gets ready for work. She teaches social studies at an elementary school in the Indian state of Meghalaya – and today, she is giving a lesson on last names. Banisha explains to the students how the Khasis are one of the few societies in the world where children receive their mothers’ last name, leaving only the father with a different last name. Banisha is the head of her own household. But this also means that she bears the burden of responsibility. She shares her little home with her sister, parents, nephews, and nieces. Ten people live in the modest wooden shack. Banisha tends to financial matters, household chores, cooking, and ensuring a harmonious family life. She assigns her husband a few tasks every day, but when her parents get sick, she is the one who takes care of them. Banisha leads a hard life entailing a lot of duties. For his part, Lancelot worked in a cement factory for many years but is now retired, and fights for gender equality as the vice-president of an association. Most of the other men in the community tacitly accept the matriarchy. Lancelot has an array of carefully crafted arguments showing how absurd the Khasis’ system is. For one thing, he points out how it contradicts Christianity. Lancelot has defied the Khasis’ rules, and his wife and 28-year-old daughter Spearry have his last name. Spearry works as an attorney at a court in Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital. She leads a modern urbanite life for the most part, although she still lives with her parents. She is a member of her father’s association and supports his struggle to impose a patriarchy. She has cast off Khasi traditions and feels the matriarchy has caused a great deal of problems in Khasi society, resulting in considerable gender inequality.

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