Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Daughter Preference and Contraceptive-Use in Matrilineal Tribal Societies in Meghalaya, India

Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Daughter Preference and Contraceptive-Use in Matrilineal Tribal Societies in Meghalaya, India

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It is amazing that ethnic, linguistic and religious groups co-exist, along with their own varied cultural systems in India. Matriliny, one of the peculiar social systems has almost disappeared in South India (1) but is still cherished in the state of Meghalaya. Although true matrilineal society does not exist anywhere in the world today, it is commonly agreed that three basic elements of matriliny exist in the present-day matrilineal societies, viz. descent through mother (family name through mother), matrilocal residence system (husband lives in wife's residence), and inheritance of parental property by daughter. Any society where these characteristics exist is considered to be matrilineal. All of these three characteristics are strongly prevalent among the Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia tribes in Meghalaya, qualifying to be matrilineal societies.

Matrilineal society exists in various forms among the tribes of African countries, Maldives, in some parts of South-East Asian countries, and among a few communities in India. Among them, Minangkabau of West Sumatra is regarded as the largest matrilineal society in the world (cited in Tanius 1983). In India, matrilineal social system is still followed in small pockets of Kerala, Laksha Dweep, and Meghalaya. Meghalaya is a small state located in the northeastern part of India. The total population of the state according to 2011 Census is 29,64,007, of whom about 86% is tribal, and about 70% of them follow Christian religion. It is a state with the largest proportion of population following matrilineal system. In Meghalaya, the contraceptive-use of 20.2% was the lowest, and the total fertility rate of 4.57 was the highest in the country (2) during the study period. By 2005-2006, contraceptive prevalence rate has increased to 24.3% but is still the lowest in the country, and the total fertility rate, which has declined to 3.80, is the third highest (next to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) in the country (3). Hence, there is a need to examine linkage between daughter preference and contraceptive-use, especially to know whether the matrilineal tribal women/couples terminate the childbearing process once they achieve the desired number of children and sex composition of their children. This becomes necessary for bringing down the fertility level and improving reproductive health.

Son preference in patrilineal society, especially in India, is a well-established fact. Some studies even showed female foeticide and infanticide in few states of the country due to son preference. The declining sex ratio (decline in the number of females compared to males) in the country is also the testimony to a strong son preference. Based on the Provisional Census Data 2001, a study has classified a few districts of the country on the basis of 0-6 years' sex ratio to the extent of DEMARU, meaning "daughter eliminating male aspiring rage for ultrasound" (4). However, sex preference in a matrilineal society does not seem to be well-examined. So, very little is known about sex preference of children in the matrilineal tribal societies, especially in India.

The birth of a female child in Jaintia society in Meghalaya is hailed with a great joy. It may not be an exaggeration to say that parents often feel happier to have a female child for the simple reason of being sure of the continuity of the family and the clan (5). However, there seems to be no discrimination in the upbringing of the male and female children (5,6). In Jaintia society, girls get proper attention of the parents regarding education and health (7). Similarly, a study claims that, in matrilineal societies of Meghalaya, especially female children are considered as assets and thereby get better treatment. Girls are the progenitors of the family and of the clan because children follow the mother's lineage but not that of the father (8). Further, a strong daughter preference is seen among the Khasi matrilineal tribal women in Meghalaya (9). …

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