SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Matriliny and Invention of Custom in India’s North East: The Lineage Act, 2005

Reeju Ray

Date: 15 January 2020Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 15 January 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: Wolfson Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar


The Indian state inherited a plural legal ordering of spaces and people. In the post independence run up to subsuming independent and semi-independent groups in the north east frontier, communities identified as tribal were classified under the fifth and sixth schedules of the India constitution. This paper is examines protective discrimination offered by the Sixth Schedule in particular the rights to autonomy over customary laws and legislations. Women in the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo communities inherit property rights, and descent is drawn from one’s mother. A recent legislation called the Lineage Act 2005 has flamed extensive debate on the matrilineal rights of women in Khasi society and what it means to be a “tribal” Khasi subject in India. Recent studies on the region emphasize the discursive importance of global indigeneity and are yet to fully engage with the longer colonial roots of “tribal” subjectivity in these borderlands. By placing the Lineage Act as a point of entry and locating it within the historical and constitutional provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, this paper explores the relationship between customary law, legal pluralism, minority governance. Second, it examines law in these borderlands as both the site for and constitutive of gendered concepts of ethnicity and indigeneity. Implicit in the co-constitutive and multivalent discourses on ethnicity-indigeneity is a hetero-normative framing of rights of a kinship group in opposition to injustices against tribal groups and women in particular. This paper will address the material, and ideological conditions of production of customary rights, ethnic identity and global indigeneity in the north east of India as a historical critique of gender formation. Although the research is located within the geographical and legal confines of the Indian nation state, it presents a feminist critique of state making through law and boundary making, as well as broadly addresses the discourses on global indigenous rights and women’s rights as human rights. 


Dr. Reeju Ray currently teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication at O.P Jindal Global University as an Associate Professor. She has worked at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, and held research positions at York University and University of Western Ontario in Canada. Her research interests include legal history, borderlands stories, human geography, feminist theory, and global indigenous studies. In her doctoral research she examined the emergence of a variegated legal landscape in the north-eastern frontier of the British empire in India, and colonial governance of indigenous inhabitants of frontier spaces through law and custom. In her post-doctoral research Ray examined legislations and regulatory frameworks around women’s labour in informal work sites including the home and the street in contemporary urban India. She is currently working to turn her doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript titled Placing the Frontier Hills: Law and Custom on the North-eastern Frontier of the British Empire in India. A chapter from her dissertation has been published in the journal of Modern Asian Studies in the form of an article titled ‘Interrupted Sovereignties at the North East Frontier of the British Empire in India 1787-1870’ in January 2019’. Reeju is also founder and editor of Jamhoor - an entirely volunteer run independent media platform.

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Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute & Centre for Asian Legal Studies

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