This is a coffin of a dead 7 year old girl who was attempted to be raped and was finally killed by her uncle, and whose body was strategically buried by the man inside a church compound. No, this is not a village in North India or any other place in which public and private life is popularly designated as “violently patriarchal.” This is the Khasi Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, often hitting national and international headlines for fake and catchy narratives like “women’s empowerment ” and “gender equality.”
Khasi-Jaintia matriliny needs to be understood simply as a system, with its own merits and demerits, and instead of basking under the pride of a community perceived as “progressive” in the larger patrilineal world, Khasis and Jaintias need to urgently take a closer look at their own misogynistic selves and the various patriarchal realities embedded in the very flesh of their cultures, domestic spaces, political structures et al.
This case in fact, forces us to locate the violence in our own backyard and our own homes- spaces which to many Khasis symbolise an almost divine-like kind of sanctity and purity. The abundance of such cases of violence against women and children in the past few years around the state thrusts us into a nightmare reality, finally pulling out into the open all the secrets which we Khasis love to hide so much, and thank god for that! It is time we talk freely and sincerely about sex, masculinity, and power as independent categories as well as in their interconnectedness, and how they manifest within this matrilineal world which is trying to survive amidst the restructuring of lives by global capitalism and neoliberal policies, amidst the marriage between Khasi conservatism and Christianity, amidst decades of failing governments, and amidst the trauma of colonial and neocolonial subjection.
Moreover, it is truly sickening that cases like these do not trigger any public outrage, simply because they are incidents that happen outside Shillong. The urban privilege of Shillong people, who only act in self interest, numbs them to the point of selective humanity. Soon this case, like many others, would be dismissed by the collective conscience of Shillong as symptomatic of “rural barbarianism”. Let us not forget that sexual violence is an epidemic that also thrives within the city, in households, within universities and colleges, and of course the many great edifices of the Meghalaya Government.
This post is not a nostalgic cry for some sanitized past because there was none; this post is to have us shiver at the knowledge of our own failures, our complacency and our own historical identity as a patriarchal matrilineal society, divided deeply by class and motivated heavily by a fragmented and self-centred sense of moralism.
So please, stop pointing your fingers and daggers towards people who cross your borders, people who “do not” belong to these precious hills, people who are not part of your homes, because all of our faults and all of our sins are written in the blood of this 7 year old girl.