Where women rule: The matrilineal societies within India
Granted, matriarchy is a supposed ideal which will take a long time in turning to reality. In such a form of society, women are the chief decision makers, and they take the stand in almost all spheres of life. Whether it be politics, judicial systems, business or inheritance, women are the main decision markers. Matriarchy is something which we have not seen in India for a very long time, but matrilineal societies do exist in small pockets within the country. Matrilineal societies are ones in which the laws of inheritance are based in favour of women rather than men. The lady of the house becomes the decision maker on a lot of matters, although matrilineal systems do not ensure fair representation of women in the public domains.
Despite this short-coming, however, it is a huge matter in itself for the woman to gain some powers, as opposed to the strictly patriarchal system which the majority of the societies all over the country are based on. Some places in Meghalaya and Kerala are matrilineal by nature. The Garo and the Khasi tribes in Meghalaya and some other parts of the north-east have matrilineal systems. They do not belong to the indo-aryan lineage. The daughter of the family is always the heiress by default. Most women in these tribes are given the liberty to choose their own husbands.
In the Khasi tribe, they have a ceremonial dance where the girls, with very ritualistic movements, absorb the powers from the earth. The Nairs and Ezhavas in Kerala are also matrilineal by nature. Kerala, at one point, had been almost completely matrilineal by nature. Despite the system declining, however, one cannot say that it is dead and gone.
Matrilineal societies might not give women as much power as a matriarchal society would endow them with, but there are social evils which are subverted through this system. Women are not judged as strictly as they are in the patriarchal societies. They can wear what they want to, the men in their household respect them much more, the hideous practice of female infanticide is considered abhorrent, and issues about dowry are not encouraged. The basic respect which these women are given, and the basic powers they are vested with are denied to other women in many parts of the country. The intrinsic ideology and how women are viewed changes when the system is matrilineal.
Matrilineal societies are dwindling today. The more homogenized the cultures all over the world become, the more this system stands at risk. But what it has done is that it has embedded within the male members of the societies, a certain amount of respect for their women which very few places exhibit today. While in most societies, it would be shameful for the men to endow women with powers to take decisions even on household matter, matrilineal societies do not consider women inferior to men.