Domestic Violence in a Matrilineal Context: Investigating the Experiences of Tribal Women in Meghalaya

Domestic Violence in a Matrilineal Context: Investigating the Experiences of Tribal Women in Meghalaya

Funding Agency : West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata (WBNUJS)

Duration (Dates): 27th March 2024 - 27th March 2025

Status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator: Dr. Umeshwari Dkhar

Co-Principal Investigator(s):

1. Dr. Surja Kanta Baladhikari, Assistant Professor, WBNUJS, Kolkata;
2. Ankita Chakraborty, Assistant Professor, National Law University Meghalaya, Shillong;


Domestic violence is a critical issue globally, affecting women in both developed and underdeveloped nations. This form of violence, occurring within the private sphere, typically involves individuals connected by blood or marriage. As per Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ‘Domestic Violence’ is defined as any action, omission, or behavior by the respondent resulting in harms and injures, endangering the health, safety, life, or well-being (mental or physical) of the aggrieved person. This includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and economic abuse. It also covers harassment for dowry or other valuable security, and any conduct that threatens or causes harm to the aggrieved person.

The present study investigates the dynamics of domestic violence within the tribal communities of Meghalaya, a North-Eastern state in India known for its matrilineal social structure. Despite the unique societal framework where lineage and inheritance are traced through women, Meghalaya witnesses significant rise in the cases of domestic violence. Additionally, according to Darilyn Syiem, former Chairperson of the North East Network (NEN), despite taking pride in its matrilineal social structure, in many aspects, women in Meghalaya face even more precarious situations than those in patriarchal societies. She highlights a prevailing attitude among a significant number of women in Meghalaya who consider domestic violence to be a private issue between husband and wife. This perception contributes to the under reporting of such cases, as many women choose not to come forward. The same is corroborated by the National Crime Records Bureau Report of 2022 whereby Meghalaya accounts for merely 1.7% of the reported cases on domestic violence in India. However, the ground reports from the Meghalaya State Women’s Commission project a different picture whereby adequate stress is laid on the rising cases of violence against women in domestic confrontation.

Despite the availability of extensive literature on domestic violence, comprehensive studies are lacking in understanding the dynamics of domestic violence within matrilineal societies, such as the Khasis and other tribes in Meghalaya, particularly in the context of coexisting patriarchal elements. The intersectionality of domestic violence, considering factors like class, education, ownership of property/wealth needs deeper exploration in the context of Meghalaya. Additionally, the cultural attitudes influencing underreporting of domestic violence have not been thoroughly examined. This highlights the urgent need for a critical in-depth analysis to understand and address the issues from a criminal justice perspective. Here, it is imperative to engage in direct, in-person conversations with the victims as well as the witnesses in these cases to gain an insight into their perspectives which should then be cross-referenced and validated with the input and viewpoints of the key stakeholders of criminal justice system, (i.e. the police, prosecution, and judges) who are directly involved in registration and adjudication of domestic violences cases and District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) who provide legal counselling and assistance to the victims.

This research holds the potential to challenge the prevailing assumptions about matrilineal societies and contribute to broader discussions on gender-based violence and women's rights in diverse cultural contexts.