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The matrilineal edge


RARE RIGHTS: Among the Bunts of Karnataka, the women have a dominant say in property matters

The marumakkatayam system practised among the Nairs of Kerala, the aliya santana observed by the Bunts in Karnataka, and the marumakkal vazhi followed by the Pillais of Tamil Nadu are some of the prominent matrilineal systems of inheriting property in India. Although the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 applies to all Hindus, section 17 of the Act makes some exceptions for these practices. Thus, when a woman who follows the matrilineal custom dies intestate, her property would first devolve upon the children and not the children as well as the husband. Further, heirs of the mother gain precedence over the heirs of the fathers who in turn are given precedence over the heirs of the husband, an order that is inverted in the case of other Hindus.

It must be noted though that all matrilineal systems in India do not follow a standard template of inheritance. Certain communities have their own customary practices of inheritance, which are also matrilineal. In the Khasi community of Assam, only the youngest daughter or ka khadduh is eligible to inherit the ancestral property. If she dies without daughter surviving her, her next older sister inherits the ancestral property, and after her, the youngest daughter of that sister. Failing all daughters and their female issues, the property goes back to the mother's sister, mother's sister's daughter and so on.

Among the Garos of Assam, property passes from mother to daughter. Although the sons belong to the mother's ma chong (family), they cannot inherit any portion of the maternal property. Indeed, males cannot in theory hold any property other than that acquired through their own exertions. Even this passes on to their children through their wives (the children's mothers) after marriage.

Variations of such practices can be found in other countries as well. For instance, the Minangkabau ethnic group of West Sumatra, which follows Islam is a matrilineal community. Here, property and land pass down from mother to daughter;religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men.

Among the Nakhis - an ethnic group in the Yunan and Sichuan provinces of China - as the heads of the family, the women passed on the inheritance to their children, or to their nephews through their brothers. The Hopis of Arizona, USA, the Gitksan of British Columbia and some Berber tribes of North Africa also follow matrilineal customs.

Reader's opinion (1)

Sanjay GhoshMar 10th, 2011 at 14:58 PM

As far as I know (and I am born and brought up in North East India) Garo and Khasi are tribal communities in Meghalaya.

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