About the Book
This book explores how, in early modern Malayalee society, individualism was inextricably bound to a certain vision of a society based on gender difference. As such, the process of 'individualisation' became a process of 'en-gendering'. Thus, the individual, as imagined in early Malayalee reformism, though deemed to be 'free', was already implicated in new institutions which required capacities specific to each sex. Men and women came to be seen as ideally placed within separate social domains the public and domestic endowed with different kinds of power, and bound together in a relationship of complementarity. Further, training and education was required to realise this (paradoxically) 'naturally' gendered self.
About the Author
J. Devika examines the discourses around education, reformism, the construction of 'womanliness' and the aestheticised female body. She also examines the complex engagements with these issues as they emerge in the works of early twentieth century writers of fiction, of tracts and magazines, articles and especially in the writings of Lalitambika Antarjanam.
J. Devika is Research Associate at the Centre for Development Studies, "Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala). She received her Ph.D. from the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayaim. She writes in both Malayalam and English. She is the author of Streevadam (Feminist Theory) in Malayalam, and Her Self (a collection of translations into English of writings by Malayalee women).
In the period of concern here, present-day Keralam' was often referred to as 'Malayalam', after the language widely spoken here. 'Malayalam' was used to refer to not just a region or a language, but also to distinct sets of social arrangements, hierarchies, observances and practices quite distinct from other regions." Characteristic of the region was a society comprising of castes, ranging from the Malayala brahmins at the top to the Pulaya and Parayas who cultivated the land at the bottom. These castes, or jatis, were a scriptive status groups hierarchically arranged with little or no individual mobility between them. However, each jati was itself internally differentiated, constituted by several groups linked together in a strict hierarchical structure. Interactions between the various jatis, as among the various groups composing each jati, were highly regulated and hierarchical.' Each group had specific codes of conduct, systems of alliances and regulations for everyday life. Eating, dressing, talking-just about everything signified one's position in the social hierarchy, and one's difference from others. Deference to the higher jatis, and ritual purity was fastidiously observed by all, including the lowest jatis, with both untouchability and inapproachability. This applied for the Christians and Muslims also. This social order may be called the order of janmabhedam ('difference by birth'). It was one in which external signs of compliance had to be produced without fail by the 'lower' jatis. Moreover, these signs of compliance were relentlessly wrested by the jati higher up in the hierarchy from the ones below. The social status of individuals followed from where they were born in the social hierarchy. However, by the late nineteenth century, the signs of change and challenge to the established order were too obvious to be ignored. This, of course, is not to claim that challenges to authority were absent before the colonial period.
With British rule, which began in the 1790s in Malabar, the several chiefdoms in the area comprising present day Keralam were now reduced to three major political units the District of Malabar of British India in the north, the small state of Kochi (Cochin) in the central area, and the state of Tiruvitamkoor (Travancore) to the south. Tiruvitamkoor had experienced modern state-formation in the eighteenth century. Large tracts of land had been removed from powerful elements and placed under the state. In 1865, the Tiruvitamkoor government granted tenants full ownership rights of some 2,00,000 acres of land.' Around the same period, Tiruvitamkoor was also being drawn into the world economy; new forms of production, exchange and labour were beginning to gain ground. On the other hand, Malabar, ruled directly by the British, experienced a strengthening of the landed aristocracy. The British interpreted the right over land (which was not ownership of the land but the ownership of the laws and titles that went along the land) to be the equivalent of the right of the Roman dominus, or the owner of the land." This left the actual cultivators without any rights over the land, and ultimately fomented tensions between landlords and tenants." In Tiruvitamkoor and Kochi, the government, though still staunchly committed to the preservation of orthodox jati hierarchies, had begun to promote modern administration, education, medicine, commercial agriculture and transport.
At the level of ideas, the nineteenth century brought equally important changes. Attracted by the prospect of 'refining' native Christians, and converting others, missionaries from England and other parts of Europe came to Malabar, Kochi and Tiruvitamkoor." They worked as agents of 'civilisation', advancing new ideas of culture, justice, morality and economy. Their education gradually began to be much sought after especially after it proved useful to gain proximity to the new types of political and administrative authority. The combination of new notions of modesty and aspirations to mobility in the social hierarchy were already making a potent political mixture. These were evident in the 'Breast-Cloth disturbances' of Tiruvitamkoor in the first half of the nineteenth century, where the appropriation of upper-caste symbols of dress by members of the lower Channar jati combined with the missionaries' propagation of new ideals of feminine modesty to lead to tense political situations." Through the missionaries came strong critical appraisals of local society and its entrenched powers, hierarchies, sexual morality, patterns of resource use and distribution of products. These quickly began to gain considerable assent not only among converts, but also among those who were exposed to state-supported modern education. Modern education became a potential means of breaking down existent structures of dominance-and not just in the realm of ideas. Thus in 1906, Tiruvitamkoor abolished fees for 'backward class students'; in 1909 Kochi followed suit.'? Simultaneously, new fields were being opened'up skills that would enable agents to operate effortlessly within these fields became extremely valuable. By the early twentieth century, new institutions and identities community organisations like the Shree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, the Nair Service Society and others, community identities like the Ezhava, the Nair etc.-emerged, that would populate these new fields, actively negotiating with the state to corner material and cultural resources. I I In Malabar, Kochi and Tiruvitamkoor, by the late nineteenth century, a clear distinction between the public and the private was assumed in the unfolding of political processes. The state, especially in the latter two native states, which claimed to be 'Hindu' kingdoms, removed itself from the realm of the domestic and the private, remaining the 'defender of custom'. It was reluctant to go beyond those functions it had performed earlier, in maintaining jati rules, though it was now being forced increasingly to innovate." These became the focal points of other apparently non-political identities working through kinship and assumed kinship alliances, expressing shared community affiliations, evoking some of the institutional preconditions established by the state, such as its tendency to deal with group identities, largely centred on 'caste', as the fundamental 'fact' of Indian societies Ezhava, Nair, Araya, Nambutiri, Pulaya etc. Individuals who laid claim to these groups identities had to be members of the community, and citizens at once." Already by the late nineteenth century, these nascent group identities were being asserted in 'public statements', like the Malayalee Memorial (1891) and the Ezhava Memorials (1896 and 1900) in Tiruvitamkoor, at tense moments in which the state was perceived to be unduly favouring certain groups over theirs. In the twentieth century, these community movements pressurised the state in Kochi and Tiruvitamkoor to substantially 'modernise' family and inheritance practices. The major thrust was to redo these institutions especially such 'anomalies' as matrilineal practices widespread among the N airs, sections of the Ezhavas and many other groups, and the strict primogeniture prevalent among the Malayala brahmins, to conform to certain standards that appeared civilised, 'natural', and also, truly 'Indian'. The twentieth century also saw the expansion of literacy, both male and female in Kerala, which meant the remarkable extension of the reading public. By the 1920s, the first generation of women educated in the modern style was a significant presence in the Malayalee public sphere. Such women were also beginning to gain employment in schools, medical institutions and the government. Along with nationalism, community reform efforts and community politics, and early socialist and trade union assertions, the 1930s also saw the articulation of demands made upon the government on behalf of 'Women' as a group, for job reservations, representation in political bodies etc. These decades also saw the spread of modern domesticity and the conjugal family; earlier modes of domestic life and marriage came under increasing threat due to legislative interventions and economic change, and as new ides regarding civilised and moral family life and personal freedom gained greater velocity of circulation.
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