Changing Roles and Women's Narratives
This paper attempts to address a significant problematic—the relationship between ideological and social change for women. This is considered within the complex domain of caste and property relations, the contests between a multiplicity of traditions, in particular those occasioned by the emergence of a distinct feminist discourse in Kerala in the early part of this century.
The impact of colonisation—changes in land relations, commercialisation and the rise of an educated middle class were integral to the process of social class formation. The divisions of traditional society and the disabilities faced by different social groups when old, traditional ties began to change, provided the basis for movements for both cultural hegemony and cultural regeneration. Crucial to this struggle was the nature and direction in which changes were sought in inheritance laws, property rights, forms of marriage and family organisation.
In a society characterised by vertical hierarchies of caste, gender relations assume widely different forms within and across caste boundaries. These signified varied roles for women. The 'independence* of lower caste matrilineal women within their households under the direct or indirect control of the male head of the household—the karanavar** and their freedom to enter into sambandham*** or not, was in sharp contrast with the acute oppression of cloistered, upper caste Nambudiri women, living as they did in polygamous Nambudiri households with rigid rules of female chastity. Lower caste women under matriliny were not expected to enter into polyandrous sambandham and Nambudiri women with no right to property were restricted to a single marriage in their life well before puberty. The senior male Nambudiri, the sole inheritor of property, was allowed to practice polygamy within the caste and also to form
Department of Indian History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Male head of the matrilineal Hindu joint family.
Literally 'connection': Nair marriage ceremony involving the presentation of doth by the man to the women
Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 1-2, January-February 1994