BBC: where hyperbole rules and suffragettes aren’t really suffragettes

As a Khasi and as someone who researches the suffrage movement, I was intrigued to see a BBC article titled Meghalaya, India: Where women rule, and men are suffragettes. Unfortunately it’s not a very good article. The photo of the women wearing jainkyrshah is nice though.

Firstly, my criticisms as a Khasi:

Things that it does cover:

  • OH NOES THE POOR MENZ
  • Statements like “As a mother of children by three different Khasi fathers however, she is the first to admit that their societal anomaly has afforded her ample opportunities to be both a mother and a successful career woman” without any kind of background information so it just sounds judgemental by patriarchal Western standards. Well, yes, if you neglect to mention anything about how Khasi marriages are conducted, how Khasi divorces are conducted or how Khasi inheritance works I suppose it does sound a bit weird, but come on BBC, you are based in a country where you celebrate a man who was married six times, had three children by three different women, and killed three two of his wives. That’s weird.

Things that it does not cover:

  • Meghalaya’s ratio of male and female babies born is one of the most equal in India
  • Why matrilineal inheritance was practised and what it implies for tracing ancestry
  • Any sort of detail on how it actually works
  • Any sort of feminist perspective
  • Any awareness that Khasi men aren’t subjected to the same kind of treatment that women experience in other parts of India. It’s not like Khasi boys are aborted, denied access to education, experience poor health, are malnourished, experience domestic violence, or are the victims of ‘honour killings’ because they are boys (link)
  • That there are other tribes that have similar practices such as the Jaintia
  • Any other reasons for alcoholism and drug abuse – for example, poverty

As someone who researches the suffrage movement, I find it a lazy comparison. Is this about the vote? Is this about corverture? Are specifically men working in appalling conditions and have no way to raise their concerns in a political arena? Are specifically men’s health problems routinely ignored? As far as I’m aware, Khasi men aren’t disenfranchised for being men.

However, the suffragette comparison is interesting for a different reason, and that is the history of North-East Indian separatist movements. There is an issue that people in North-East India feel that they lack a political voice because of the area’s geographical isolation and cultural differences – for example, differences between tribal cultures and more mainstream Indian culture. There are underground separatist groups and they do engage in direct action, such as bombs in Assam. I don’t think I’d want to make explicit parallels between the movements, but if I absolutely had to make a dubious, lazy argument I was thoroughly ashamed of, I’d say Khasi men may feel disenfranchised because they are Khasi rather than because they are men.

Anyway, now that’s all out of my system I can get back to marking. Didn’t want my marking to be affected by my grumpiness!

In India

I probably should have posted this before I left, but I’m in India visiting family. My thesis has come along too and I can now say that I’ve written a bit of my thesis practically in a nature reserve. Where, incidentally, I saw rhinos, deer, wild boar, elephants and a tiger! The tiger was stunning – all power and sleekness and muscles shifting under the brightest red-gold fur I’ve ever seen.

My thoughts on eco-tourism are complicated – at what point does it become too indulgent, is it okay to invade habitats with tourism, does it support the kind of human enroachment that threatens these habitats? but on the other hand, tourism helps people see the reserves and wildlife within them as valuable (which has all sorts of effects, including helping locals feel protective towards their nearby reserve and so defend wildlife against poachers), gets the government to protect the reserve because it brings in tourists and their money, and brings in money to fund the reserve, pay rangers and so on. The people running the hotel we stayed with did outreach in local schools during the rainy season when the park is closed and clearly cared about the reserve and those living within it. Without tourism, there’s a risk that the reserves wouldn’t exist, wouldn’t have support from the local community and there would be more exploitation of the reserves – poaching, logging, grazing and so on.

As valuable as zoos are with their captive breeding programs, reintroducing species back into the wild and conservation work, they were miles away from seeing this tiger easily lope across the road, glowng in the late afternoon sun, and disappearing into the grass and shrubs. For tigers to become extinct in the wild would take something precious from them.