Episode 3 Extreme Wives with Kate Humble


Episode 3

In north-east India Kate Humble searches out one of the world's last remaining matrilineal societies where Khasi women hold the wealth, family name and many of the top jobs.


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Transcript


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Wow.

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I've spent time in many different countries...

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What a place to be!

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..getting to know people from vastly different cultures.

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So do the men sew as well?

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Will your husband sew?

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And one thing that's often struck me...

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..is that the roles men and women play in society

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give great insight into their way of life.

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OK.

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And how the everyday roles of women in particular

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reveal a society's values,

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whether they be determined by religion, status...

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..or tradition.

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As a white middle-class woman growing up in Britain,

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I know that I'm enormously privileged -

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free to make choices, to state opinions, to be independent.

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But for many of the world's women, perhaps the majority,

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circumstances are very different.

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WOMEN CHANT

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So, in this series, I'm travelling to three very different communities,

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where the roles of women are exceptional,

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complex and even extreme.

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The Kuria tribe in Kenya, where women are caught up

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in the clash between age-old traditions and the modern world.

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How do you go and find a man?

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LAUGHTER

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Hello.

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The intensely private, ultra-orthodox Haredim in Israel,

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who live by strict religious laws.

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Now I'm in north-east India...

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-Hello.

-Hi, Shitoah. Kate.

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..with the Khasi people and their extraordinary matrilineal system

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that puts women at the forefront of society.

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You're like a very strict headmistress.

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Over the last decade, India has been ranked

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as one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman,

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so this is the last place you'd expect to find women in charge.

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So if you need money, do you have to ask Shitoah for that money?

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But can this ancient way of life survive

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as India continues to modernise?

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Gosh, that's quite a chink

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in your matrimonial Utopian system, isn't it?

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Yes. Not so Utopian.

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I'm in the city of Shillong.

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The capital of Meghalaya state in north-east India.

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Meghalaya's a beautiful place,

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full of deep gorges and steep forested hills,

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often shrouded in mist.

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India is one of the hardest places to be female.

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Inequality is absolutely ingrained in society.

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Domestic violence is rife, child marriage is common,

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arranged marriages, of course, are the norm.

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But in this remote corner of India, the local Khasi people,

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who number around 1.75 million,

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practise a matrilineal way of life,

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where everything, including property and the family name,

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is passed down the female line.

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It's believed that this female-led way of life

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was once practised by 30% of the world's population,

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but now there are just a handful of communities left.

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I want to know how it works in this part of India.

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Does a matrilineal system allow women to,

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I don't know, choose their own husbands

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or choose how many children to have?

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Erm, does it allow them to have businesses and to be entrepreneurs?

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All the things that I don't connect, rightly or wrongly, with India.

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I want to find a community where this exceptional system

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is working as it always has,

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so I've been told to head up into the hills.

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It's a four-hour drive to my destination -

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a small village literally at the end of the road.

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Hello. How are you?

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Very well.

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Very nice to meet you.

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Kongthong is a settlement of 500 people

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and one of the 12 villages

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that make up the core of Meghalaya's matrilineal system.

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The history of this culture has only survived by oral tradition,

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so pinning down its origins is hard...

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..but it's said it started when Khasi men went off to fight wars.

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They'd be gone for years and many wouldn't return...

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..so the women took over managing the family wealth

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and became responsible for the vital continuity of bloodlines

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by passing on the female family name.

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I'm staying with the Khongsit clan, who've lived here for generations.

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Hi.

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And I've been told that a woman called Shitoah

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is the most important family member.

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-Hello.

-Hi, Shitoah.

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Kate.

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Lovely to meet you.

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Thank you very much for letting me come and see you today.

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Shitoah is the Khatduh.

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The head of the family.

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So is this all your family here?

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But what's unusual in Khasi society

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is that the Khatduh is also the youngest daughter.

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Hello. I'm Kate.

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Hi.

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So is this your husband?

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Yeah? This is your good man?

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Very nice to meet you. Is it Bah Lung?

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Bah Lung, nice to meet you.

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Shitoah and Bah Lung have been married for 30 years.

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OK, now tell me who everyone else is.

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They have seven children - five girls and two boys.

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And so this is your youngest daughter?

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12-year-old Habashisha is the next generation Khatduh.

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You're the Khatduh. So you're going to be in charge?

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In Khasi society, unlike the rest of India,

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the birth of a daughter is vital to continue the family line

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and it's the youngest daughter who holds this important role,

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as the one most likely to marry last and, therefore,

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most able to take care of her ageing parents.

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So, can you tell me about your family?

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And when your parents died,

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did your brother and sister inherit anything at all

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or did absolutely everything come to you?

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It sounds like that's the best thing to be, to be the youngest daughter.

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But, actually,

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there's a very big responsibility on the shoulders of the Khatduh.

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Do you sometimes wish that you hadn't been the youngest daughter?

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And you, down there,

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can you tell me what your duties are

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as this very important member of the family?

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We're camping in the village.

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It's a world away from the hubbub and car horns of modern Shillong

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and already I feel myself relaxing into the pace of life here.

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And you get the feeling that there are these, sort of,

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little pockets of humanity

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that, kind of, exist almost in isolation,

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tucked in these beautiful hills.

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I mean, it's the most staggeringly dramatic landscape.

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This way? Oh, this way. Down here?

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Shitoah's asked me to help with the harvest

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from their forest garden down in the valley.

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DOG GROWLS

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Hello.

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Most of the villagers here rely on agriculture to make a living,

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harvesting oranges, wild bay and pepper.

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SOMEONE SINGS A SUCCESSION OF NOTES

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SINGING

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I keep...like that...

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SINGING

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Is there a system here for people to communicate with each other?

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Do you have a family song,

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so if you're trying to call your daughters,

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will they know it's you?

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Will you call this daughter here?

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SHE SINGS

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That's lovely.

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And so for each one of your children,

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do they all have a different song?

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Each one?

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Finally, after a three-hour descent,

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we arrive at the wild pepper fields.

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Did you find pepper already? Look at that.

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Wow, so this is a very important crop for you.

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Well done.

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Brilliant.

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Suddenly, when you get your eye in, it's everywhere.

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I haven't heard anything yet from Bah Lung

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about how men fit into this system

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because it's the women who manage all the family's finances

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on a day-to-day basis.

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So if you need money to buy a new machete, or a new pair of shoes,

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do you have to ask Shitoah for that money?

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Does that ever bother you? I mean, you're working as hard as she is.

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One issue that would certainly cause a disagreement

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in most societies is that the children here

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inherit the mother's surname rather than the father's.

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For many men, especially here in India,

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this would surely be a step too far.

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SINGING

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Bah Lung seems not only to accept the Khasi way,

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but actually to be happy that his wife holds the purse strings

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and that it's her name that's passed on to their children.

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There's a real sense of... kind of, identity, I think.

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He's such a deeply respectful man.

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Respectful of his family, respectful of his wife, but more than anything,

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respectful of the culture that he comes from.

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And absolutely...

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..feels that upholding the matrilineal tradition

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is right at the heart of what it means to be Khasi.

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This is the dry season.

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There's nothing dry about it.

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I'm fascinated by the dynamic between men and women here

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and, in a way, it's the men's role that I'm finding the most difficult

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to understand.

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But whereas the husband of the Khatduh

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doesn't seem to have much of a say in family matters,

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there are men in the community who do have influence.

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Bah Lung's brother-in-law is Bah Bring,

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one of Kongthong's soothsayers.

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Whilst much of India is predominantly Hindu,

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the majority of Khasis have embraced Christianity,

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but they also still practice their own religion -

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Ka Niam Khasi.

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Soothsayers claim to read signs contained in eggs

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and animal entrails, and be able to help the sick.

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Bah Bring is seeking approval from the Khasi god, U Blei,

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about the appointment of a new village elder.

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I'm slightly disappointed to see no women involved in this practice.

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Like tribal councils the world over, there are only men here,

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responsible for the community's administration.

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The soothsayer's wife is Shidiap Shitoah's elder sister.

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When you have these prayers, it's only men.

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I'm surprised by that in a society that values women so much.

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Overall, the Khasi system does seem to be harmonious

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in its sharing of duties between men and women.

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OK.

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There are clear roles here based on ancient traditions.

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Khasi men still claim responsibility for politics

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and administration,

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but women work alongside them in the fields.

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OK. Yeah.

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And they are in charge of the family finances and property.

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They're the sustaining force of the family lineage

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as guardians of the surname.

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I'm ready. I'll race you up the hill!

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LAUGHTER

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It seems, so far, this is a great place to be a woman.

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Before I leave Kongthong, Bah Bring, Bah Lung,

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and some of their friends are taking me on a final trek

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down into the valley.

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They're on their way to repair a bridge.

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Oh, my goodness.

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Look at that.

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Wow, what a piece of architecture!

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I think that's the most beautiful bridge I've ever seen.

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This is a traditional living root bridge,

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made out of the roots of two rubber trees that have been trained

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over the centuries to grow across river below.

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How safe is it?

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Oh, my God!

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It's quite scary.

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My heart's going like the clappers!

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It's like a, sort of, giant basket work up here.

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The bridge once provided a vital trade link to neighbouring villages,

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but today business relies on the many roads

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that have been constructed across these hills.

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What a beautiful thing though.

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Amazing.

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As the modern world creeps ever closer,

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I'm keen to know what these men think the future holds

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for their unusual way of life.

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It does feel like you're in the presence of a really equal society...

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..and that's so rare.

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So, to me, it feels really precious.

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It doesn't feel like an antiquated, outdated system.

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It feels very current,

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very timely.

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The big unanswered and, at the moment unanswerable question,

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is that although the matrilineal system

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seems absolutely unshakeable and rock-solid,

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now is the time that the first generation of young people

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from this village are going and getting a broader education

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and that, I think, is going to be the thing that will really...

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..potentially, throw out of balance

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this seemingly quite Utopian way of living.

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I'm back in Shillong, 40 miles and a world away from the village.

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Shillong was once a British hill station at the time of the Raj.

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Today it's a hub for education and is embracing Western culture.

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Two-thirds of the population here is Khasi.

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It does feel different from much of India.

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Women can hang out with men without stigma,

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they can enjoy social mobility as there's no caste system,

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and there's no system of dowry or arranged marriage.

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This is Iewduh market

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and here it's the women who run most of the stalls.

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From owning small shops to large businesses,

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from teaching to being a doctor,

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Khasi culture allows women to aspire to pursue careers.

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I've been told there's a woman here, a Khatduh,

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who's fulfilling a role most people would assume

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is very much a man's job.

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D Marngar is a police inspector.

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Flying, flying, Romeo-One.

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The inspector's in charge of one of the largest

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of Shillong's seven traffic districts...

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..and she's taking me out on patrol.

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You're like a very strict headmistress.

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To become the head of this department...

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..as a woman, did you...

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do you think you had to work harder than your male counterparts

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to prove that you were capable of the job?

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As dusk falls and rush hour arrives...

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..the traffic gets even busier.

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CARS TOOT THEIR HORNS

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Like many Khasi women,

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the inspector balances her career

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with her responsibilities as a Khatduh

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and as a mother.

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Did you have support from your husband, your family?

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Did they help you look after the children?

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What do you mean by that?

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Sorry.

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Despite the abuse, the inspector stayed with her husband

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and had two more children.

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Do you think your husband was somehow jealous

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that you were doing well in your professional life

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and also, because, as you say, you are the Khatduh,

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you were the person who owned the property?

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Finally, the inspector did divorce her husband.

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We tried to contact him to get his side of the story,

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but were unable to track him down.

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Do you or your children

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have any contact with your husband at all any more?

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India has been cited as one of the most dangerous countries

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to be a woman and domestic abuse is widespread.

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But at least here in Meghalaya,

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women like the inspector can stand up to their abusers and can divorce,

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which would be unthinkable for many women in the rest of India.

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The inspector is...

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She's a remarkable woman.

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To come out of that situation intact,

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and not just intact but a woman with an extraordinary career...

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..that's pretty astounding.

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And seeing her out here, I mean...

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I don't know what constitutes a traffic violation in Shillong -

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everything looks like a traffic violation to me.

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But she fiercely marches into the traffic like Boadicea...

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..and sorts everybody out.

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Although the inspector's story is shocking,

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her education, job and independent wealth have allowed her to recover

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and bring up her family.

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But what happens to Khasi women who haven't been educated

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or who don't have family wealth behind them?

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The inspector told me there are many single mothers in Shillong

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and, just like in the rest of India, in Meghalaya state,

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despite the matrilineal system,

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there's been a rise in crimes against women.

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So I'm meeting Dala Nongpiur,

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a Khatduh, a mother and a career woman,

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who's going to help me understand

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what's causing this growing problem.

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You know, like, for a man to leave his wife and children,

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go on to another woman, have children,

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then maybe move on to a third woman - that happens as well.

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There is definitely a very high number of single mothers here.

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It's more common for Khasi couples to cohabit rather than marry,

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so it's all too easy for the men just to walk away

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with no sense of responsibility for the children

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who bear their mother's family name.

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But is there no law or system

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to make those men pay some sort of support

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for their children?

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This is where it gets a little complicated.

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Because of the matrilineal system, the children belong to the mother -

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-to the mother's family.

-They take the mother's name, don't they?

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They take mother's name.

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And so some men have claimed that we don't have a right

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even to our own children,

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and so they kind of feel free to just leave them.

0:36:050:36:08

And there is a law, of course,

0:36:080:36:10

that a man has to pay a certain amount of maintenance,

0:36:100:36:13

but a lot of women do not claim that.

0:36:130:36:17

Presumably, if they're educated,

0:36:170:36:20

and they can have good jobs, like the inspector,

0:36:200:36:24

it's not necessarily a problem.

0:36:240:36:26

There's no stigma to being a single mother, is there?

0:36:260:36:29

There is no stigma, but not all women are educated,

0:36:290:36:32

not all women are well-off enough,

0:36:320:36:35

and a lot of them feel a certain amount of shame

0:36:350:36:38

in asking from the father

0:36:380:36:41

to actually go to a man who has abandoned you

0:36:410:36:45

and ask for money from him. To some of them, it amounts to begging.

0:36:450:36:49

A lot of them would...

0:36:490:36:51

..go as domestic help. That is one thing, you know?

0:36:520:36:55

They go to wash clothes, clean up the house

0:36:550:36:57

for the other more well-to-do families.

0:36:570:37:00

And I also know of girls who have entered sex work

0:37:000:37:06

as an option to feed their families.

0:37:060:37:09

Gosh, that's quite a chink

0:37:090:37:11

in your matrilineal Utopian system, isn't it?

0:37:110:37:13

Yes. Not so Utopian.

0:37:130:37:15

Yeah.

0:37:150:37:17

Wow.

0:37:180:37:19

So, we go down there.

0:37:210:37:23

Dala's taking me to meet a group of single mothers

0:37:240:37:27

who've had to resort to sex work to survive.

0:37:270:37:30

Go ahead. Go ahead.

0:37:300:37:31

-Stop?

-Yeah. No, no, no. Just 20 metres before them.

0:37:310:37:34

Stop.

0:37:370:37:40

According to a charity that works with these women in Shillong,

0:37:460:37:50

of the 408 active sex workers here,

0:37:500:37:53

320 are single mothers.

0:37:530:37:57

Why did you end up working as a prostitute?

0:37:570:38:02

I'm the youngest of six. I'm the Khatduh.

0:38:030:38:06

My father passed away.

0:38:060:38:08

They've asked to be kept anonymous and we've changed their voices.

0:38:090:38:13

And then my mother got ill,

0:38:140:38:16

so I had to drop out of school and return home.

0:38:160:38:19

But then my husband left me when I was pregnant.

0:38:200:38:23

Do you think that there's anything about...

0:38:240:38:29

..Khasi society, perhaps the matrilineal system,

0:38:300:38:34

that makes men feel

0:38:340:38:37

that they are allowed to just walk away

0:38:370:38:41

from their responsibilities?

0:38:410:38:43

It's the men who are at fault in most of these cases.

0:38:440:38:46

If they actually took proper care of us, we wouldn't have to do this.

0:38:460:38:50

I did other jobs, like making street food,

0:38:500:38:53

working until one o'clock in the morning,

0:38:530:38:56

but then I had to get up at six in the morning

0:38:560:38:58

to get my child ready for school.

0:38:580:39:00

But it was just too exhausting.

0:39:000:39:03

I can't get a proper job.

0:39:030:39:05

This is my only option.

0:39:050:39:07

You're all Khasi women.

0:39:080:39:11

You come from a very...

0:39:110:39:13

erm, ancient...tradition.

0:39:130:39:17

Would any of you like to see it change?

0:39:170:39:20

I think things need to change.

0:39:210:39:24

Let the men bear more responsibility.

0:39:240:39:27

Maybe the children can take their father's surname.

0:39:280:39:31

If they had his surname, I think he'd be around a lot more.

0:39:310:39:35

It is the husband's duty to support the family, even if he leaves.

0:39:370:39:42

Men come and live with us, but when they see we are not well-off...

0:39:430:39:48

..they feel they have more freedom to walk all over us.

0:39:490:39:53

These are tragic stories

0:40:060:40:08

and, to be honest, not what I expected

0:40:080:40:11

from what I thought was such an equal society.

0:40:110:40:14

But it seems that the system here is disenfranchising men

0:40:140:40:18

and that's having a serious impact on both sexes.

0:40:180:40:22

The problem with the Khasi society, where the women are right up there

0:40:230:40:27

and the men are way down,

0:40:270:40:29

this little gap is increasing day by day...

0:40:290:40:33

..and it scares the wits out of us.

0:40:340:40:37

Keith Parriott set up a men's campaign group in 1990.

0:40:380:40:42

It has a membership of 4,000

0:40:420:40:45

and has often been compared to a male suffragette movement.

0:40:450:40:49

The custom has given everything to the women.

0:40:500:40:54

They've given property to the women,

0:40:540:40:58

they've given the title of the children to the women.

0:40:580:41:00

Are you saying that because Khasi society

0:41:000:41:05

has this matrilineal system,

0:41:050:41:07

men are feeling increasingly inferior to women?

0:41:070:41:13

Khasi men feel absolutely unwanted.

0:41:130:41:17

They feel absolutely useless in society.

0:41:170:41:20

We do feel inadequate...

0:41:200:41:23

Right.

0:41:230:41:24

..when we compare ourselves to the women.

0:41:240:41:27

There are males dropping out from school - males students.

0:41:270:41:31

There are males who are into drugs and alcohol.

0:41:310:41:34

Males who have no responsibility on their shoulders.

0:41:340:41:38

What's wrong with Khasi men? Don't they need to just grow a backbone?

0:41:380:41:41

Well, I would say yes,

0:41:410:41:44

but the system has...

0:41:440:41:47

been bearing down on them for so long

0:41:470:41:50

that they've lost their backbone.

0:41:500:41:52

I would ideally...

0:41:530:41:56

love a system that gives importance to both men and women.

0:41:560:42:00

-Right.

-OK?

0:42:000:42:02

I would attempt to bring a change.

0:42:020:42:05

It's not that we hate women,

0:42:050:42:08

it's not that we want to be ahead of them,

0:42:080:42:11

it's not that we want to be the leaders and they the followers, no.

0:42:110:42:14

We want to pick the men up from the gutter, where they are,

0:42:140:42:18

so that they become more respectable as people.

0:42:180:42:20

Unlike up in the villages,

0:42:250:42:28

so many relationships here in Shillong seem to be fracturing.

0:42:280:42:32

Clearly, men are struggling,

0:42:320:42:34

but is it really the Khasi tradition that's at fault?

0:42:340:42:38

Khraw was happily married to a Khatduh for 14 years,

0:42:450:42:51

but recently things have started to go wrong for him,

0:42:510:42:54

his wife and their four children.

0:42:540:42:57

Khraw's wife had to fulfil her duties as the youngest daughter

0:43:320:43:37

and move away from Shillong, back to her family home.

0:43:370:43:41

So, effectively, your wife...

0:43:420:43:46

..because she's the Khatduh, was forced to make a decision.

0:43:470:43:53

She had to choose either her duty as a Khatduh...

0:43:540:43:58

..or to abandon that duty...

0:43:590:44:04

..and keep her marriage alive?

0:44:050:44:08

But she wasn't able to do both?

0:44:090:44:11

It took Khraw many years to get his job as a porter

0:44:330:44:36

in one of Shillong's busiest hospitals.

0:44:360:44:39

A state job like this, although not well paid,

0:44:410:44:44

gives him a sense of pride.

0:44:440:44:46

But as a Khasi man,

0:44:480:44:50

you presumably knew that by marrying a Khatduh,

0:44:500:44:55

this situation was probably going to arise at some point.

0:44:550:44:59

KNOCK ON DOOR

0:45:410:45:42

And then, an unexpected guest arrives.

0:45:450:45:48

So his wife has come with one of the kids?

0:45:520:45:54

Hello, there.

0:46:000:46:02

Hello. Lovely to meet you.

0:46:020:46:04

It would be really interesting to have your point of view as well

0:46:050:46:11

but, obviously, only if you had time,

0:46:110:46:13

and you were happy to talk to me.

0:46:130:46:15

Do you feel that,

0:46:240:46:27

as the Khatduh...

0:46:270:46:29

..you were put in...

0:46:310:46:33

..almost an unfair situation?

0:46:340:46:37

So when Khraw made his decision

0:46:570:47:01

to stay in Shillong

0:47:010:47:03

and not come and live with you in your mother's house...

0:47:030:47:08

..what did you think? Did you understand his decision?

0:47:090:47:13

Do you think he has...

0:47:330:47:35

..let you down?

0:47:360:47:38

And would you like to be together with Khraw?

0:48:140:48:17

I'm going to let you have a moment.

0:48:270:48:29

The story of Khraw and Ritilang

0:48:500:48:52

seems to be at the heart of the problem here,

0:48:520:48:55

when relationships break down because of the clash between

0:48:550:48:59

the duty of tradition and the pressure of the modern way of life.

0:48:590:49:03

You know, this is a time of transition.

0:49:050:49:08

Erm, people are beginning to see that, perhaps,

0:49:080:49:12

the old ways don't work quite so well...

0:49:120:49:15

in this modern era, particularly, perhaps, in urban areas.

0:49:150:49:21

I'd hate to see the matrilineal system swept away

0:49:230:49:27

just because in the modern world it can't be made to work for men.

0:49:270:49:31

It's my last day in Shillong

0:49:370:49:40

and I've been invited to dinner at the inspector's home

0:49:400:49:44

to meet her eldest son, David,

0:49:440:49:46

and the youngest daughter, Rosabelle -

0:49:460:49:49

the family's next Khatduh.

0:49:490:49:51

At last I get to meet you. Hello. I'm Kate.

0:49:540:49:57

She's in the middle of her final exams at university.

0:49:570:50:00

I've come to help chop.

0:50:000:50:02

Her ambition is to become a judge.

0:50:020:50:05

-Here are the onions.

-Here are the onions, OK.

0:50:050:50:08

You see, this is already surprisingly me -

0:50:080:50:11

that David is the one that's in charge of the cooking.

0:50:110:50:14

Is this always true?

0:50:140:50:16

Yes, yes, it's true. Don't...

0:50:160:50:18

If he's saying it's true, I have to agree with him.

0:50:180:50:21

-Don't hesitate.

-Yes, it's true.

0:50:210:50:24

As a member of the new generation that's been educated

0:50:240:50:27

and brought up in a modern city,

0:50:270:50:30

it's great to get Rosabelle's perspective

0:50:300:50:32

on what she sees as the future of Khasi life.

0:50:320:50:36

How much do you think your ambitions

0:50:370:50:41

are connected to the fact that

0:50:410:50:45

not only do you have an extraordinary mother

0:50:450:50:48

and you've been very lucky to have an education,

0:50:480:50:51

but also that you come from the Khasi tradition?

0:50:510:50:54

I don't think if I was born in some other part of India

0:50:540:50:58

I would even have the courage of aiming so high

0:50:580:51:01

and I don't even think I would have the courage

0:51:010:51:04

of expecting people to respect my ambitions,

0:51:040:51:07

because men respect women in a matrilineal society,

0:51:070:51:10

unlike in other parts.

0:51:100:51:12

But, do they, though? I've had really mixed experiences.

0:51:120:51:17

You know, I've seen both sides.

0:51:170:51:19

-I mean, your mum's story...

-Sorry, I have to interrupt.

0:51:190:51:22

-That's enough, Kate.

-That's enough? OK.

0:51:220:51:25

It doesn't make you immune from some of the awful things

0:51:250:51:29

that can happen.

0:51:290:51:30

And equally, I've heard from, you know, from some men,

0:51:300:51:35

that they feel somehow that they don't have a role.

0:51:350:51:39

And in a funny sort of way,

0:51:390:51:41

they would say that's why they're more disrespectful to women.

0:51:410:51:45

If we don't make it flexible,

0:51:450:51:48

if we don't let people know that there are rooms for improvement

0:51:480:51:51

and there is scope for change,

0:51:510:51:54

the Khasi tradition will face the crisis of passing into oblivion,

0:51:540:51:59

the threat of being substituted by a patrilineal society,

0:51:590:52:03

so making it flexible is very important.

0:52:030:52:05

She's right.

0:52:050:52:07

I agree with what she said.

0:52:070:52:09

It doesn't need to be a patrilineal society to take up responsibility.

0:52:090:52:14

Once you are a father, you have a responsibility over...

0:52:150:52:20

For your children, for your wife, for your family...

0:52:210:52:24

for everybody.

0:52:240:52:26

And what improvements would you make?

0:52:260:52:28

How do you think the system could be adapted...

0:52:280:52:32

to make it work...

0:52:320:52:35

in a more sophisticated urban environment like Shillong?

0:52:350:52:39

In order to avoid friction and to make men, the male children,

0:52:390:52:43

feel that they have an equal status in society,

0:52:430:52:46

the parents would distribute their property maybe equally,

0:52:460:52:50

or not give everything to just one person,

0:52:500:52:53

but give everybody equal share.

0:52:530:52:55

While the family agrees it's important to adapt the system

0:52:550:52:59

and share the wealth amongst the children,

0:52:590:53:02

Rosabelle's still adamant

0:53:020:53:04

that they should hold on to one key aspect of it.

0:53:040:53:08

I don't think the children should take the surname of their fathers

0:53:080:53:11

because, in that way, if...

0:53:110:53:14

this whole system will be converted to...

0:53:140:53:16

If you do away with it and just bring in the patrilineal system,

0:53:160:53:20

then there the crisis will emerge where the matrilineal society

0:53:200:53:25

will pass into oblivion.

0:53:250:53:26

What makes us different from all the people

0:53:260:53:30

in the entire country,

0:53:300:53:32

what makes the north-eastern part different

0:53:320:53:34

is the very fact that we have the matrilineal society

0:53:340:53:37

and I'm very, very proud of that.

0:53:370:53:39

I don't think we should, you know, change the passing of surname,

0:53:390:53:43

but just adjustments when it comes to inheritance of property.

0:53:430:53:46

-It's done.

-It's done?

-Yes.

0:53:480:53:50

It's a really clean, lovely smell.

0:53:500:53:55

You get the smell of the pepper, you get the smell of the ginger,

0:53:550:53:59

you get the smell of the chilli.

0:53:590:54:01

You can smell all those lovely individual flavours.

0:54:020:54:05

OK, I'm going to sit down and prepare myself.

0:54:070:54:10

-Careful. It's hot.

-Thank you.

0:54:100:54:12

-So, the moment of truth.

-The moment of truth!

0:54:120:54:14

That's delicious.

0:54:190:54:21

-That's really...

-She's just being nice!

0:54:220:54:24

Honestly.

0:54:240:54:25

No, I don't doubt his cooking.

0:54:250:54:27

-Did your mother teach you this dish?

-Yes.

0:54:270:54:30

That's another thing you've done, inspector. How do you do it?!

0:54:300:54:33

You control all the traffic in Shillong,

0:54:330:54:36

you have the most amazing children and you teach them to cook!

0:54:360:54:40

Oh, it's lovely.

0:54:420:54:44

That is so good and it's spicy!

0:54:520:54:54

-But lovely spicy, isn't it? It's a really clean...

-It's really good.

0:54:550:54:59

-I should start learning.

-I think you should start learning.

0:55:000:55:03

LAUGHTER

0:55:030:55:05

Over my time here,

0:55:190:55:21

equality is a word that's come back again and again.

0:55:210:55:25

Yes, there are problems here, like in most societies,

0:55:250:55:29

and the pressures of tradition and duty weigh heavy at times.

0:55:290:55:33

But despite those very real issues, it does feel that overall

0:55:330:55:38

this is a fairer place for both men and women.

0:55:380:55:42

They are a very, kind of, forward-thinking people

0:55:430:55:47

and everybody, from Bah Lung and Shitoah in the village,

0:55:470:55:52

through to the extraordinary Rosabelle,

0:55:520:55:56

the inspector's younger daughter,

0:55:560:55:58

they all understand that, you know, things are changing

0:55:580:56:02

and the matrilineal system is going to need to change too.

0:56:020:56:07

It doesn't mean that the women here are immune

0:56:090:56:13

from abandonment by husbands or immune from domestic abuse,

0:56:130:56:18

or indeed any of the things that can be inflicted on women

0:56:180:56:22

anywhere else in the world,

0:56:220:56:24

but it does mean that they have a sense of self assurance

0:56:240:56:29

and confidence.

0:56:290:56:31

And when you come to a country where that is quite unusual,

0:56:310:56:35

you realise that...

0:56:350:56:37

that is a very positive thing.

0:56:370:56:40

So maybe we should look at this place,

0:56:400:56:43

one of the last remaining matrilineal societies in the world,

0:56:430:56:47

and learn from it

0:56:470:56:49

about what can happen when you give women independence

0:56:490:56:53

and instil in them a strong sense of worth.

0:56:530:56:57

When you have empowered women,

0:56:570:57:00

you have a society that feels a lot fairer,

0:57:000:57:03

that feels like it works better,

0:57:030:57:06

and surely, surely, that can only be a good thing?

0:57:060:57:10

Kate Humble travels to three countries - Kenya, Israel and India - where the roles of women are exceptional, complex and sometimes extreme.

In the third and final episode, Kate is in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state in north-east India, in search of one of the world's last remaining matrilineal societies. India has been ranked as one of the hardest places to be a woman, where inequality and arranged marriage are commonplace. But in this remote corner of the country the local Khasi people, who number around 1.75 million, practise a matrilineal way of life where everything including property and the family name is passed down the female line.

Kate travels high into the hills above Shillong to the village of Kongthong. The history of this culture has only survived orally; it's believed that when Khasi men went off to fight wars they would be gone for years and many wouldn't return, so it was the women who took over managing the family wealth and became responsible for the vital continuity of bloodlines by passing on the female family name.

Kate camps in the village to spend several days with the Khongsit clan, who've lived here for generations. She is greeted by a woman called Shitoah, who is the most important member of the family, the Khatduh. What's unusual about Khasi society is that this most important role is taken by the youngest daughter. She inherits the family property and the largest share of the wealth compared to her older siblings. Unlike the rest of India, the birth of a daughter is vital to continue the family line, so it's the youngest daughter who holds this role as the one most likely to marry last and therefore most able to take care of ageing parents.

Early the next morning the family takes Kate to harvest wild pepper deep in the valley below. On the way she hears unusual and beautiful singing echoing around the valley and learns that the Khasi use these uniquely composed songs to communicate with their family across the hills.

While pepper picking, she speaks to Shitoah's husband Bah Lung to find out how he feels about his wife holding all the purse strings. Kate admires his strength of purpose and respect, and his belief that upholding the matrilineal way of life is right at the heart of what it means to be Khasi.

Kate ventures down into the valley with the male members of the family to repair a traditional root bridge. The roots of two rubber trees have been trained over centuries to grow across the river to form a bridge, which was once a vital trade link to neighbouring villages. She learns that while they support the matrilineal way of life, they're also nervous about its future.

So Kate leaves the apparently utopian village of Kongthong to find out whether the system is under threat as the values and pressures of the modern world take hold in the region's capital.

Shillong was once a British hill station at the time of the Raj, but today it is a growing hub for education. It does feel different to the rest of India, as women can hang out with men without stigma and enjoy social mobility. They can aspire to careers and Kate meets one woman, a Khatduh, who's fulfilling what most Indians would assume is very much a man's job: a police inspector. The inspector is in charge of one of the largest of Shillong's traffic districts. She believes that it's the equality of the matrilineal system that allows women to succeed. And after suffering domestic abuse, it's this system that allowed her to divorce her husband, something that would be unthinkable in much of India.

However, Kate learns that there are cracks developing in the Khasi matrilineal system. It's common for couples to co-habit rather than marry, so it's all too easy for men to walk away from their family with no sense of responsibility for the children who bear their mother's name. Kate is helped by a local journalist to understand the growing problem of single mothers in Shillong and is taken to meet a group of women who have had to resort to sex work.

It seems that the system is disenfranchising men which is having a serious impact on both sexes. One Khasi man tells Kate about the pressure of being married to a Khatduh. When his wife's parents fell ill, she had to leave their home in Shillong to look after them in their village far way. Without any wealth of his own he had often felt inadequate around her family. He didn't want to leave his job as a porter in the local state hospital, so they were forced to separate. In an emotional scene, while Kate is speaking to the man, his wife arrives and tells Kate that she wishes they could live together as a family.

Before Kate leaves she meets up with the inspector and two of her children, including the all-important youngest daughter, the next Khatduh. She believes that the system must adapt, that wealth should be shared equally, but is adamant that one key tenet remains the same: children should retain the mother's family name and continue the female lineage.


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