TO MANY males it sounds the perfect existence. "The men here have no responsibilities," says Kaith Pariat, a member of the Khasi tribe, an ancient community of about a million people who live in the hills of northeast India.
"All we have to do is to eat, drink, play the guitar and produce children." For all their permitted fecklessness, however, the Khasi men are far from happy. Fed up with being branded the weaker sex and discriminated against, under centuries-old traditions, they have started what may be the world's only "men's lib" movement.
The tribe is a rare example of a matrilineal community. It is the youngest daughter who inherits property and children take their mothers' surnames. If a family does not have a daughter, it must adopt one to become its heir.
Men are expected to sleep in the house of the mother-in-law and to keep quiet. They are excluded from clan meetings, which are presided over by a network of matriarchs. This strict social hierarchy is supported by the Indian Constitution, which recognises the traditions of official ethnic minorities and gives them legal status.