Indian Khasi tribe puts women in control

Updated 10 March 2013
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Indian Khasi tribe puts women in control

India’s remote northeast is home to an ancient tribe whose high regard for women makes it a striking anomaly in a male-dominated country.
But as the world marks International Women’s Day today, the region has become a staging ground for an unlikely battle in which men are trying to end a matrilineal tradition practiced by more than a million people.
The Khasi tribe in the picturesque state of Meghalaya places women at the center of its society from the cradle to the grave.
“Go to any hospital and stand outside the maternity wards and listen,” says Keith Pariat, a men’s rights activist.
“If families have a boy, you will hear things like: ‘oh okay, he’ll do’. But if it’s a girl then there is joy and applause.”
Pariat is the chairman of Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT), an organization fighting to eradicate a tradition with tremendous staying power.
According to Khasi tradition, the youngest daughter inherits all ancestral property; men are expected to move into their wives’ homes after marriage and children must take their mother’s family name.
And, in a ruling which helps explain the grand welcome for female babies, all parents with ancestral property but no daughters are required to adopt a girl before they die, since they cannot leave the inheritance to their sons.
The matrilineal system has endured for thousands of years here, but now activists like Pariat are determined to overthrow it.
“When a man has to live in his mother-in-law’s house, it tends to make him a little quiet,” Pariat says.
“You are just a breeding bull. No one is interested in hearing your views about anything.”
The 60-year-old businessman believes that the matrilineal system has been “totally detrimental” to Khasi men.
“It puts no responsibility on their shoulders so they tend to take life easy and they go into drugs and alcohol and that cuts their life short,” he told AFP in the state capital Shilling.
It also makes them unappealing to Khasi women, who exercise their right to marry outside the community instead.
Tabor Langkhongjee, a 41-year-old entrepreneur and SRT member, says the choice is easy to understand.
“Khasi men don’t have any security, they don’t own land, they don’t run the family business and, at the same time, they are almost good for nothing,” he said.
A men’s rights movement did emerge in the early 1960s but petered out after hundreds of Khasi women turned up at one of their meetings, armed with knives.
SRT, founded in 1990, faces an uphill battle to overturn Khasi tradition, since India’s constitution guarantees the tribal councils’ right to set their own customary laws.
The clash between clan rules and Indian law is a familiar one, with the judiciary often expected to step in when gender rights are at stake.
In the past however, such conflicts have focused on expanding women’s rights whether in matters of inheritance, dowry or alimony in the case of Hindu and Muslim families. Men’s rights have never been the subject of debate.
In Shillong, most women dismiss the suggestion that their society is biased.
Although Khasi women are empowered to make their own decisions over marriage, money and other matters, political participation remains low, with women accounting for only four out of 60 state legislators.
“The reason the property is left to the youngest daughter is because she has the responsibility to look after the parents until they die,” said journalist Patricia Mukhim.
“Parents feel like they can always depend on their girls.”
The state’s gender ratio currently stands at about 1,035 females for every 1,050 men, higher than the global norm of 1,000 women for every 1,050 men.
Misogyny remains widespread in many parts of India.
The gang rape and murder of a female student in December on a bus in New Delhi fueled angry nationwide demonstrations.
Pesundra Reslinkhoy, a 25-year-old nursery school teacher in Shillong, said she appreciated the matrilineal system all the more after the Delhi attack.
“I think it is a good tradition for Khasi, that all the power will stay with women because it will keep us from many evil things,” she said.
The SRT has no plans to mount a legal challenge to the tribal customs, hoping instead that an informal campaign of brochure distribution and public meetings will convince more Khasis of the need for change.
But there are few signs of the group’s influence in the state’s tradition-bound villages, suggesting that the balance of power is unlikely to shift anytime soon.
“In most of Meghalaya, people only know the old ways and they like the old ways just fine,” Mukhim said.


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”