Why has rape and murder of women in matrilineal Meghalaya spiked up?


Meghalaya is romanticised as a paradise for women; a land where women rule the roost simply because the youngest daughter inherits ancestral property from her parents. Meghalaya is portrayed by bright eyed rookie journalists as the last Shangrila where women live with dignity and enjoy more freedoms than their counterparts elsewhere in this country. It is also a land where men have started an organisation called Synkhong Rympei Thymmai  because they feel disempowered by the matrilineal system where children born of a relationship (wedlock or cohabitation) carry the mother's clan name and not the father's. That is the essence of Khasi matriliny. In Khasi society those with the same clan name cannot intermarry, for that is a sacrilege.

There are some who attribute the series of sexual offences to the frustration that men face in the matrilineal system. But this is not borne out by any research and hence lacks empirical evidence in order to be accepted as a causative effect. It is unfortunate that despite the rise in sexual violence against women, the local universities have not attempted to prise open the societal reasons for this malaise.

In the last ten years , we have seen an exponential rise in crimes against women. I don't have to cite police statistics because there is news of rape in one part of the state or the other almost every single day. This year, two young women were not only raped but also murdered.  Both resided in Upper Shillong. While one murder occurred in March this year, the second one happened very recently.  In the second murder the dead body was thrown quite a distance away from the residence of the girl. Police are still trying to piece together the cause of murder by interrogating a friend of the deceased. It's all a murky business.

The question arises as to why women in a matrilineal society should suddenly face the wrath of men within their own society. What triggers rape? Is it a sick mind? Is it alcohol and drugs? Is it pornography? Or as is attributed by those with a patriarchal bias, "Is it what the woman/girl was wearing? Is it the time of day that matters? Does going out at night alone or with other girlfriends a potential risk? Does it expose women to danger? These and other questions were thrashed out at a seminar held recently at St Edmund's College where experts tried to analyse the reasons for rape and how to get redress when such acts of sexual violence occur.

We cannot discount the fact that mental health problems are on the rise. In the 1960's and 70's we read of maniacs and misogynists and used to associate them with the western world. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would face the same situation so close to home. Not especially where women are ostensibly held in high esteem (whoever constructed these words perhaps lived in an age of make believe). It is not as if rape is new to Khasi society. Rape is a human perversion; an act of aggression; an assertion of a perverse kind of male masculinity. It cannot therefore be considered to be beyond the pale of individuals in any society.

But that rape is happening with shocking frequency and to very young girls aged just five or six years is what is frightening. Little innocent girls cannot be accused of wearing provocative dresses or behaving in a manner that patriarchs argue is suggestive of, "asking to be raped." So what explains this vicious behaviour?

Khasi society is at the best of time in denial about these societal perversities and misdemeanours. Sex education is one of the most difficult to communicate because of the want of a proper vocabulary for the male and female genitals. All these words are considered "bad words" or swear words uttered in a fit of anger at an opponent. Hence parents do not usually discuss sexual matters or masculinity and femininity and their ramifications, with their teenagers. So the young with a fragile mind tend to look for information on sex from books or friends and now on the internet. Very soon the young are into pornography since parents are beyond supervising what their kids are up to.

We entered the era of globalisation without having gone through the civilisational processes that people in the west have traversed. We are bombarded by information but don't know what to do with it. There is also the reality of rapid urbanisation where the young from the villages come to the city for education and live in hostels or in rented accommodations without any elderly supervision. We cannot also deny that commercial sex is on the rise and many of our idealistic young women who come to the city looking for jobs find this a more lucrative livelihood, without considering what the long terms consequences are.

Khasi society is one that believes in "Ka Burom, Ka Akor" (good mannered or respectable behaviour) that inhibits a frank discussion on most matters but particularly about sex.  This gives rise to a very controlled family environment which makes it impossible for parents to detect perverse behaviour in their sons since everything is well hidden under the veneer of 'Ka burom, Ka akor.'  It would be impossible for instance to discuss masturbation and the proclivity of some to term it 'sinful.' In fact the concept of 'sin' that is often embedded in the act of sex (in religious teachings) is itself problematic.

These unexpressed and therefore hidden yet aberrant behavioural norms manifest themselves outside the home where a young man lets his libido get the better of him. Although psychologists say that rape is an expression of power and not a desire for violent sex, this is a fairly unexplored domain of the human mind. Until we have enough evidence-based studies on rape and what triggers it in different individuals, it is important for families and educational institutions especially the co-educational ones to break the silence on Rape and start discussing it so that awareness about male and female sexuality and may help reduce the occurrence of rape in Meghalaya.

-Patricia Mukhim