One day after the executive committee of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) said that it intends to bring in legislation to enable sons to inherit ancestral property, Michael Syiem of the Maitshaphrang Movement, said that such a law should have been enacted by the state government for the whole of Meghalaya’s tribal population.
Syiem, a social activist, has been advocating for equitable distribution of property among the siblings of indigenous families of Meghalaya for years.
“If the KHADC passes such a law, it will only apply to Khasi Hills even though the issue is relevant to Jaiñtia Hills and Garo Hills also,” Syiem said. “So, we feel that the state government is more competent to legislate on the subject.”
The state government had also legislated a law, the Meghalaya Succession to Self-Acquired Property (Khasi and Jaiñtia Special Provision) Act 1984.
Syiem, though, said that the reason why Maitshaphrang Movement has been campaigning for equitable distribution of ancestral and self-acquired property is because the 1984 Act states that after one generation such assets become ancestral and therefore it reverts to the youngest daughter.
“So that’s why we felt that the government should legislate or maybe amend this 1984 Act and include the provision of ancestral property. I feel that the district council might not be able to cover the issue which really affects the whole state,” he added.
The convener of Maitshaphrang Movement also said that whenever a law is to be legislated, especially something as serious and sensitive as this one, there should be efforts to create public awareness first so that people can debate the pros and cons.
The Maitshaphrang Movement has raised awareness on the issues close to its heart through various mediums, like streets plays, dramas and pamphlets.
He said that the movement had specifically clarified what the problems faced by the society are because of this one-sided, according to them, inheritance.
“It is not only one-sided, it deprives even the eldest or second-eldest daughter, not to mention the boys, of inheriting property,” Syiem said.
Other issues the traditional form of inheritance gives rise to, according to Syiem, include hamstringing the economy as “economic power is given only to the youngest daughter”, dissuading tribal men from taking up agriculture as they do not own the land they cultivate and preventing men from taking out loans from banks as they cannot provide collateral.
When asked if Khasi society is progressive enough to accept changes to their age-old tradition, Syiem said that societies all over the world are changing and those in Meghalaya also have to change with the times.