In India, the matrilineal social system is found in small pockets in south and the northeast India. The Nairs and Mappillas in Kerala, the tribal groups of Minicoy Island and the Khasis and the Garos of Meghalaya still follow the matrilineal system.
Matriarchy: Does it Exist Today? defines and examines matriarchal societies around the world. This article is its sequel and discusses the matriarchal societies in India.
The Indian epic Mahabharata has several stories in which the men marry a woman and stay with her at her ancestral home and take leave of her when she becomes a mother. For example, Arjuna marries a Manipura princess Chitrangada, bids her adieu when she gets a son who grows in his mother’s home. Similarly, Bheema marries Hidimba and their son Ghatotkacha grows up with Hidimba.
In India, the matrilineal social system is found in small pockets in south and the northeast India. The Nairs and Mappillas in Kerala, the tribal groups of Minicoy Island and the Khasis and the Garos of Meghalaya still follow the matrilineal system. Probably, the Gharo and Jaintia tribes migrated from Tibet, and the Khasi tribe from the Khmer areas of Southeast Asia. In these traditional societies the men have always been traders and warriors and the women have stayed home. The men from these communities served in the armies of kings and were on the move most of the time. This contributed to the thriving of matrilineal/matrilocal system in these regions.
The Khasi women; Source
In fact, the Khasis are the world’s largest surviving matrilineal/matrilocal culture. Khasi society woman has the right to select a man,cohabit with him and marry him on her own choice. The husband lives with his wife’s matrilineal kin or resides close by. Children carry their mother’s family name and women have the main say in the running of the household – subject however, in cases of dispute, to an incontestable veto by their maternal uncles. Kings in these regions did not pass power on to their sons but to the sons of their youngest sister.
Many communities in coastal Karnataka and Kerala practice matrilineal system of property inheritance. The family’s ancestral lineage is indicated by gotra or by the name of the ancestral house (’illam’) that comes from the mother. Marriage between the persons belonging to the same gotra/illam is prohibited.