Matrilineal legacy under siege

Kerala


“I

n the exceptional nature of Kerala’s social achievements, the greater voice of women seems to have been an important factor”, said Amartya Sen. Much of what the Kerala model of development has achieved in terms of women’s literacy (87.86 %) and education, low birth rate and sex ratio (1,058 females for every 1000 males), to name a few indicators, would not have happened without women.

Women are more respected and seen as powerful because the matrilineal society bestowed on her more right on the family property than the male. Yet, sociologists point out that the voice of Kerala women has been becoming more and more feeble in an increasingly feudal setup. “The matrilineal structure is being dismantled and Kerala is becoming more Indian in terms of women’s privileges,” says Dr J Devika, writer and Associate Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

She agrees that Kerala could be one place where there is no murder or honour killings in the name of inter-caste love marriages. Yet, the newspapers are replete with news of dowry murders, rape, incest and suicides. Dr Devika points out that girls still enjoy little choice in matters of marriage as was seen in a recent incident where a girl’s family took her by force to Australia to avert her marriage with an autorickshaw driver.

Murders perpetrated by men against women are also common. As recent as last week, a jilted lover slit the throat of a college girl in broad daylight in Palakkad.

Better sex ratio

Kerala women enjoy a better sex ratio compared to the national average. Yet, selective abortion cases are also reported sometimes.  A significant section of the society still views the girl child as a liability rather than as a welcome sign. Sighs of “Oh, you have a girl.. start saving for her marriage right away,” is a common refrain. It is also a fact that women are having less control over their property.

According to a study by renowned demographer S Irudaya Rajan, Kerala has reached gender parity in select indicators only. There was much to be achieved in terms of gender relations. “It appears that only the practical needs of the female population have been taken care of instead of a full-bodied attempt at gender transformation or questioning of conventional roles,” says he.

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