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Had Meghalaya been a patriarchal state, Mukul Sangma would have been the happiest man on earth. He would not have to be worried about an upcoming report of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. The apex court has asked the Commission to verify the chief minister’s ST status by mid-March. Having a Garo father, Mukul Sangma need not have taken the pain to “manage” an ST certificate, under a patriarchal system. But in that case, trouble would descend on many others, whose fathers are “outsiders”.

Leaving aside the obvious political motive behind the PIL seeking cancellation of the ST certificate, the typical system of taking surname and inheritance has forced many a manipulation. In matrilineal Meghalaya, there is a substantial population with family history of mixed marriages. And everyone wants to retain the title of an indigenous tribe, be it from the mother’s or father’s side. The sole intention is to avail facilities of reservation. The irony is that if a child is brought up by his tribal father, but he still has the surname of his non-indigenous mother, the land of law does not allow him to avail the reservation facility. Even if someone has adopted the indigenous culture for decades or a century, he or she is still branded as an outsider. Fortunate are only those whose mothers belong to any indigenous tribe. It does not matter what language they speak or what culture or religion they practise. Mukul Sangma is a typical Garo, by appearance and culture. Yet, he has not been able to escape from being troubled by his rivals time and again over his “doubtful” ST certificate. Leaving aside his mother’s religious background, no one can doubt his being a Garo. There are many other cases of “violation” of the matrilineal system wherein people have adopted tribal father’s titles and obtained SC certificates. But such cases do not come to the light because the violators are not prominent people.

The reservation system that only one parent, depending on patriarchal or matrilineal society, needs to belong to the particular caste has failed to uphold the genuine motive behind the policy. Family of a tribal woman remains no more “backward” if she gets married to an affluent man of unreserved caste. Their children only abuse the tribal status they get by virtue of their mother’s origin. It’s high time this inherent flaw of reservation system in India be rectified.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 8, 2014)