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Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021

  • 03 Nov 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) in Meghalaya announced that it would introduce the ‘Khasi Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021. The bill is aimed at “equitable distribution” of parental property among siblings in the Khasi community.

  • If implemented, the proposed Bill would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.

Note:

  • KHADC is a body under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • It does not have the power to legislate.
  • Paragraph 12 A of the Sixth Schedule gives the final right of passing a law to the state legislature.
  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to safeguard the rights of the tribal population in these states.
    • This special provision is provided under Article 244 (2) and Article 275 (1) of the Constitution.
    • It provides for autonomy in the administration of these areas through Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), which are empowered to make laws in respect of areas under their jurisdiction.

Key Points

  • About Matrilineal System of Inheritance:
    • The three tribes of Meghalaya — Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos — practise a matrilineal system of inheritance.
      • In this system, lineage and descent are traced through the mother’s clan.
    • In other words, children take the mother’s surname, the husband moves into his wife’s house, and the youngest daughter (khatduh) of the family is entrusted the full share of the ancestral - or the clan’s - property.
      • The khatduh becomes the “custodian” of the land, and assumes all responsibility associated with the land, including taking care of aged parents, unmarried or destitute siblings.
    • This inheritance tradition applies only to ancestral or clan/community property, which has been with the family for years. The self-acquired property can be distributed equally among siblings.
    • In this traditional set-up, if a couple does not have any daughters, then the property goes to the wife’s elder sister, and her daughters.
    • If the wife does not have sisters, then the clan usually takes over the property.
  • Effect of this System on Women Empowerment: Women activists have often pointed out that the matrilineal system in Meghalaya rarely empowers women.
    • Issue in Custodianship: Custodianship is often misconstrued as ownership vested in just one person, that is the youngest daughter.
      • This custodianship comes with the responsibility to care for aged parents, unmarried or destitute siblings and other clan members.
      • Moreover, the custodian cannot buy or sell the land, without taking permission from her maternal uncle.
    • Matrilineal is Not Matriarchal: People often confuse matrilineal with matriarchal, where women function as heads.
      • While women may have freedom of mobility and easier access to education, they are not decision makers in Meghalaya.
      • There are barely any women in positions of power, in politics, or heading institutions.
  • About the Bill:
    • Provisions:
      • The proposed Bill is envisaged to provide the “equitable distribution” of parental property among siblings – both male and female.
      • The Bill would let parents decide who they want to will their property to.
      • It would prevent a sibling from getting parental property if they marry a non-Khasi and accept the spouse’s customs and culture.
    • Need For the Bill: Over the years, a few groups have protested the system of property inheritance, saying it “disinherits” men, and pressed for equitable property distribution between all children in the family.
    • Impact: This would modify an age-old customary practice of inheritance of the matrilineal Khasi tribe.
      • The legislation is aimed at economic empowerment based on the principle of equitable distribution of property.

Source: IE

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