Up until eight standard, I was the only one in my class with a Khasi mother and a non Khasi family name. No one, including my mom really cared about it. She was a busy woman, with a demanding but happy life made of four kids, a great job and a travelling husband. Somehow, that Khasi element in her never even prompted, at any instant a family name battle with my dad. I still wonder.
In high school, I was reminded by well-wishers, mom excluded, of the advantages that came along with a Khasi family name. I eventually succumbed, and what followed was simple paper work that promised great returns in my educational and professional life. Of course, a side benefit was that, I became more “accepted” and people stopped teasing me about my Dad’s family name being the same as a leading Bollywood actor of that time.
Today, I have both my parents’ names tailing in my passport, marriage certificate and other important documents. I’m no feminist and I’m not scared of tedious paper work. With mom, dad and husband all from different communities, I just don’t believe that family names are important anymore. Family is!
Nevertheless, some years ago, when I moved to Mumbai, I understood the power of my mother’s name. It didn't change my fortune. It was only one strong reminder of the massive feminine power, back home in North East India. I lived in Mumbai for several years and my observed difference in ordinary women’s lives in Bollywood city and the modest hills is shocking.
I jerked one morning, when my housekeeper informed of her daughter’s death caused by burns, as a result of her husband’s drunken wrath. She gave me the news in the most normal tone. The same woman had amazed me earlier when she boasted on her facts about terrorists and rhinos eating together (and each other and everyone else) in people’s backyards in far Assam.
Women power in the hills has become a strong social security, and this in turn has brought about an updated positive identity, that is being contrasted with other societies, where the birth of women is regarded as bad luck, and burning brides is a trend.
Far from being disadvantages, NE women, in particular, Khasi women, enjoy an enviable position in the society. It is interesting to note that,like the Khasis, it the indigenous peoples of the world, including Africa, South America and Asia who are tinted as backward, but have such progressive mind-sets where the women lead! And it is also interesting that countries on these continents like India, Brazil, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh have had a woman head of state . But that has not yet happened in some so called "developed" and "advanced" countries like the US.
Like in all modern, adapting societies, the girl power phenomenon in my part of the world is gracefully aging towards a more tolerant version, in favour of the younger generation where love, more than the urge to dominate, rules. This means that women are happy to share their power and men reciprocate, by their willingness to take responsibilities. At least, this is what I conclude from my friends’ updates and otherwise.