Topic started by vijayakant (@ on Thu May 15 03:42:22 .
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Hello every one,

Came across an interesting article published by the Asian Human
Rights commission.

Kindly read on...

WOMEN AND CASTE DISCRIMINATION: The Namboothiri-Dominated Period of
Kerala Culture and Society
The Oppression of Women and the Misuse of Religious Authority
Fr. Pallath J. Joseph

The Namboothiris

The Namboothiris are the Brahmins of Kerala. Claiming priestly
origin, the Namboothiris established superiority over the "Patters,"
the Tamil Brahmins, and "Embranthiris," the Thulu Brahmins. The
Namboothiris had absolute contempt for the Patters and Embranthiris.
Namboothiris considered eating with other Brahmins below their
dignity and refused food prepared by the latter. Interestingly
though, the Namboothiris made use of their services in the kitchen
as well as for running errands.

There are 64 distinguishing practices that set Namboothiris apart
from other Brahmins. While other Brahmins are pinkudumakar (tie
their hair behind them), the Namboothiris are munkudumakar (tie
their hair in front). Other Brahmins wear a poonool (a cord worn
like a sash that designates social status) with two threads; the
Namboothiri poonool is only of one thread. Other Brahmins take a
bath with their clothes on, but the Namboothiris take a bath .
Other Brahmins take a bath chanting the mantras; the Namboothiris
are , not only to chant, but also to think of mantras.
Other Brahmins repeat the mantras after the main chanter, but the
Namboothiris chant the mantras individually. Other Brahmins wash
their clothes themselves, but the Namboothiris use only clothes
washed by Veluthedan (dhobi, a subcaste responsible for doing
laundry). Only the widows of other Brahmins wear white cloth, but
the Namboothiri women wear only white dresses. Other Brahmin women
do not have pardah (veil), but the Namboothiri women are supposed to
be seen only by her husband, not even by her own father or brothers.
Other Brahmins exchange greetings while meeting, but it is
to do so for Namboothiris. Other Brahmins are either Vishnavites or
Saivites (followers of Vishnu or Shiva), but the Namboothiris belong
to neither of them. While the other Brahmins strictly practise
marriage before the puberty of their s, the Namboothiri women
have no age limit for marriage. Only the eldest Namboothiri son's
marriage is endogamous (marry woman from among the Namboothiris);
other sons are to satisfy their ual needs through sambatham
(cohabitation only at night) with Nair women.

The Namboothiri houses are called illam or mana; a mana was superior
to an illam. Namboothiris chose places of natural beauty to build
their houses that were isolated from other castes. The illam or mana
compounds would be lush and green with a variety of trees and
medicinal plants. The Namboothiri houses had their characteristic
architectural designs. Generally there would be one or more ponds in
the illam or mana campus and also a serpent grove, which added
beauty as well as gave a mysterious atmosphere to the illam or mana

The Namboothiris made sure that they had all the facilities for a
comfortable life within their immediate reach. Their servants and
tenants were made to stay around the illam or mana campus. Also
housed were people of different castes who helped them with the
sacred rituals. The Nairs and their subgroups and other temple
castes were among them. The interdependence of the Namboothiris and
these castes was such that the Namboothiris could not live a day
without the help of these castes, particularly the Nairs.

The Namboothiris were allowed to do work related to knowledge and
sacred rituals. They were to do hard labour, farming and
business. Meanwhile, the lower caste was to do the work of
the higher caste; but in case of impoverishment, the higher caste
could take up the work of the lower caste. There were also intricate
prescriptions on purity and pollution. Birth, and the menses
of women were extremely polluting events with ritual bathing of
varying kinds and other rites prescribed for purification. Seeing a
woman during menses was polluting. Only the mother was an exception
in this matter. Even seeing menstruating sisters and aunts were
defiling events, and one had to undergo a ritual washing of their

The ritual purity of a Namboothiri was ruthlessly observed, not only
in their personal life, but also in their relation with other lower
castes without whom they cannot live for a day. The distance for
pollution was in proportion to the caste grade. Seeing of some of
the lowest castes itself was polluting, the polluting range
according to the caste grade: Kmmalar, Ezhavar and Paanar - 24 feet;
Velanmar and Arayar - 32 feet; Kanakkmar and Koodar - 48 feet;
Cherumakkal and Pulayas - 64 feet; Parayar, Nayadikal and Kadar - 72

Contempt for Lower Castes

It is a commonly accepted fact that an immigrant group of people who
came to be known as Brahmins created caste in India. It is also an
accepted fact that the diversity of the people and the tribals in
different places where they immigrated gave birth to the innumerable
castes in India. The difference in caste observance though between
Kerala and the rest of the country, even from the neighbouring
states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is so different and crude that
it remains a vexing problem for historians and anthropologists. The
social life of South India does not comply with the Chaturvarna
(Four Caste) concept, and the immediate polluting castes are one or
two. In Kerala, however, all of the castes, except the most holy
Namboothiris, are polluting castes. The Nair caste that stood in the
place of the Shetriya was a polluting caste on body contact. All
other castes, as we have seen, had to observe a prescribed distance
from the Namboothiris.

An illam or mana could not survive a day without the help of a Nair
family. While the Nair men served the Namboothiris, the Nair women
helped the Antherjanam (a Namboothiri woman). There was not a single
illam which did not have a Nair family housed to help them.
Valiyakkar (servant) was a synonym for Nair men. It also must be
remembered that there were hardly any Namboothiris who were not
sleeping with Nair women. In spite of these facts, the Namboothiris
had taken such an uncompromising stand in prescribing pollution on
body contact with Nairs. Human nature is such that intimate dealings
compel one to overlook man-made laws. The great betrayals in human
history were done by exploiting this human weakness. Before the self-
centred and comfort-seeking Namboothiri mind, intimacy and human
tender feelings were of no value. Namboothiris displayed the very
same cruelty when they subjugated their own women and reduced them
to being a Saathanam, which means an inanimate object or thing.

The Status of Namboothiri Women

The Namboothiri women were called Antherjanam, the literal meaning
being "people inside the house." The entire Namboothiri life was
patterned to ensure the virginity of the Antherjanam. Their travel
was limited to the temples or to the house of their immediate
relatives, but that too had to be accompanied by a maidservant.

In the life cycle ceremonies and other aspects of life, female
discrimination was present to a shocking level. The first ritual
ceremony after conception is Pumsavanam, a ritual for the expected
child to be a male. This discriminatory attitude against the female
child continued throughout her life and was built into the
Namboothiri lifestyle in all details of her existence. Female
children were brought up to understand that they are not only not
free but are also a step below their brothers. The child's
education was just reading, writing and basic arithmetic while that
of the boy child was an elaborate learning process throughout almost
his entire life. The children moreover were made to feel that
they occupied only second place at home and in society, and the
rites and rituals were patterned after this belief to instil this
feeling. The Antherjanam also had separate places for worship, and
their rituals had restrictions placed on them: women were not
allowed to chant, for instance, and to do other ritual performances
like those of males. In addition, after her first menses, a
Namboothiri was not allowed to leave the illam; she was not
allowed to visit even close relatives. She was neither allowed to
see men nor allowed to be seen by them. The morning ritual bath,
chanting and work in the kitchen were the only activities of the
Antherjanam that were allowed.

Similarly, the Antherjanam's ornaments were, in fact, a suffocating
set of taboos. She was not allowed to wear gold ornaments and nose
rings. While travelling, she should take all precautions to keep her
chastity. Cooking food, serving the husband and looking after the
children were taught to be the essence of womanhood. The wife should
eat from the same plantain leaves used by the husband; noblewomen
were not supposed to travel; the water used for washing the feet of
the husband was considered to be theertham (holy water) to the wife.

Moreover, the marriage of widows was thought to be unnecessary.
Namboothiri men were allowed to take many wives, leaving many women
to the sorrow of sharing in grief her undivided devotion to the
husband, for women must be strictly monogamous. The evil consequence
of the practice that only the eldest son marries from the same
community directly affected the Antherjanam. Many women remained
unmarried and died without experiencing the bliss of motherhood. As
the marriage of widows was , there were many young widows
who were the prey of a husband's old-age marriage. The widows were
objects of contempt in the community. The women were an absolutely
neglected group in the Namboothiri community; the men treated them
as creatures whose limited needs were believed to be only dressing,
bathing and sleeping.

Child Marriage

The Brahmin law (Sankara Smruthi) suggests that s should be
married before they reach puberty, i.e., when they are 8 to 10 years
old. Marriage was very expensive in the Brahmin system. Many s
remained unmarried just because of financial difficulty. Such
unmarried virgins were married as the fourth or fifth "wife" of any
old Moosad, or eldest son.

Dress Code for Women

Women who are travelling should cover themselves with a blanket and
use their traditional umbrella to escape being seen by other men,
and they are also instructed to walk behind the maidservant. An
Antherjanam is expected to wear only white dress. They are strictly
forbidden to use gold ornaments but are allowed to use ornaments of
silver or brass. An Antherjanam was expected neither to dress their
hair nor to put a pottu (coloured spot) on their forehead. They are
allowed to use cotton thread to tie the thali, the wedlock symbol.
No other ornament on their legs and hands was allowed. The
maidservant was expected to carefully watch their conduct with other


Only the Moosad in the Brahmin illam was allowed to enter into veli
(official marriage) with a woman from the Brahmin community. The
Aphans (other sons) were to enter into sambatham with other Nair
women, but strangely enough, the Antherjanams were not allowed to
marry anyone from outside the Namboothiri community. While the
Namboothiri men were allowed extreme ual permissiveness, the
women were extremely restricted in their ual activities: one-
fifth of women, in practice, were denied ual activities, leave
alone begetting children, the biological right of every female. Such
an unjust social and familial order is unheard of in human cultural
history. It is not surprising though that a social order which had
built genocide into its fabric never questioned such a wicked
situation despite the fact its detrimental effect was so palpably
experienced for centuries.

According to the 1891 census of Travencore, the total population of
Namboothiris was 12,395 in 1,239 households of which 6,787 were
males and 5,608 were females. The number of Moosads, who can marry
from the Namboothiri community, in 1,239 households was about 1,300,
which means, even if we imagine that each one takes four wives,
there still would be some women left to remain unmarried for the
rest of their lives and die without knowing the bliss of bearing
children. The bride price and the marriage expense were so high that
very few rich Namboothiris could afford marrying away one of their
daughters. Naturally then, marrying away any of the other s from
the same family remained only a theoretical possibility. This being
the case, a large number of women remained unmarried in Namboothiri
illams. The situation was so miserable that the king of Travencore
in his proclamations of 1823 had to legislate the following
regulation: "The Namboothiris who take a bride price more than 700
kaliyanpanam will be taken to court and will be punished according
to the religious laws."

It is worth noting that, while the population of Travencore
increased from 25 lakhs (2.5 million) in 1891 to 40 lakhs (four
million) in 1931, the population of the Namboothiris was reduced
from 12,395 to 8,481 during the same period. It is clear that, as a
consequence, a number of women remained unmarried and died without
knowing their womanhood.

It is clear from the above census report that the restriction that
only the eldest son could marry from the Namboothiri community left
almost one-fifth of the Namboothiri s without Namboothiri boys
to marry. The problem was solved by allowing the Moosad to marry
several s, and thus, some of the rich Namboothiris married a
number of times, but these social adjustments brought about untold
misery to the Namboothiri s. First, the age of the wives of an
80-year-old Moosad ranged from 14 to 75. Some of them were namesake
wives without children and the accompanying ual satisfaction of
marriage. Secondly, the old man could die at any time, leaving the
young a widow who cannot remarry according to the community's
social customs, for the Namboothiri marriage law strictly forbids
widow marriage.

The first novel in Malayalam, Indulekha, by O. Chandu Menon in 1889
is a social criticism, particularly against sambatham. Indulekha,
the main character, a very beautiful Nair , had an English
education. She was in love with Madhavan, another English-educated,
handsome Nair boy who was her muracherukkan (the bridegroom by
custom of first-cousin marriage). Panchumenon, the uncle of
Indulekha, was very unhappy with the independence of the boy because
of his English education. He too had reservations about Indulekha's
conduct for the same reason. Once an irritated Panchumenon - because
of the independent behaviour of Madhavan - vowed not to allow
Madhavan to marry Indulekha so he invited a rich, middle-aged
Namboothiri for sambatham with Indulekha. On her refusal, the
invited Namboothiri decided to marry Kaliyanikutty, a 14-year-old
cousin of Indulekha, whom he met casually on the same morning. The
author describes the scene of sambatham as follows:

"According to the custom, namboothirippad (the bridegroom) washed
his feet and entered the room in the eastern side and lay down on
the bed, which was elaborately decorated and done with costly silk.
The door in the western side of the room was closed. At that time,
all the women in the house together caught hold of poor
Kaliyanikutty and forcefully pushed her into the room through the
door in the eastern side, like caging a living pig in the pig tile,
and closed the door; the sambantham was over."

It must be noted that sambatham was done so casually while veli was
an elaborate ritual of several stages.


Smarthavicharam (a trial for ery) reflects at the same time the
detailed intricacies as well as the basic inhuman insensitivity of
the Namboothiri mind. The Namboothiris, whose benumbed mind lost the
capacity to understand the extreme level of ual deprivation and
depth of suffering therein of the Antharjanam, were able to
anticipate the tendencies of their women to be ually permissive
in the artificial, inhuman environment of the illams unless they
were strictly controlled. It is doubtful whether any people anywhere
have invented institutions and procedures to bring to trial the
sexual misbehaviours of their own mothers and sisters. They have
given shape to a permanent arrangement, not only of making
procedures for trials, but also have created permanent smarthanmar
(judges), anticipating its regular occurrence.

There are six stages for a smarthavicharam. The first stage is
dhaasi vicharam (the trial of the maidservant ) in which a prima
facie report is taken from the maid of the suspected Antharjanam's
sexual misdeeds. If there is prima facie evidence (sangayum
thurumbum), the Antharjanam is isolated, anchampurayilackal
(isolating the accused in a special cell) - the second stage. After
the woman is isolated, the head of the family informs the ruler
about the trial, and the king sends four lawyers, together with a
smarthan (the judge) and Brahmin representative of the king. The
lawyers, in consultation with the representatives of the king,
prepare the questions. The third stage involves questioning by the
smarthan regarding the status of the accused as a Antharjanam. The
smarthan questions her sitting outside of her cell without seeing
her. The questioning will continue for several sessions - sometimes
for several days - until the accused accepts the allegations and
becomes a Saathanam or is proved . The accused woman is
subjected to physical during this time. A popular od was
to pack the guilty woman in a mat, like a body, and roll it
from the housetop. Other women were also forced to carry out
to make the accused confess her guilt. At other times, rats, snakes
and other poisonous creatures were driven into the isolation cell of
the Saathanam. It must be remembered that those close
relatives living under the same roof until the woman became an
accused undertook such inhuman types of . The literal meaning
of Saathanam is inanimate object. A Saathanam loses her status as an
Antharjanam, and the smarthan questions the Saathanam face to face
to get the names of the jaarans (the men involved). It was not
enough that the Saathanam names the jaarans, but she had to prove
it, specifying some body mark in the private parts of the man thus
named. The trial would continue until the smarthans are convinced
that there were no more jaarans. The king would be informed of the
men involved in the offence. If the accused men denied the
accusation, they were subjected to sathiyapariksha (a test of truth)
at a Suchidran temple to prove their innocence. The fourth stage is
sorupamchollal: if the accused men are found through the
test, they are declared . The fifth stage is dehavichedam in
which the Saadhanam, as well as the involved guilty men, are
ceremoniously excommunicated. In the sixth stage, sudhabhojanam
(pure meal), there is a sharing of a meal among the accused and the
trial team once the accused is proved .

The last reported smarthavicharam took place in 1918, but the most
famous was the samarthvicharam of Kuriyedath Dhatri. The stunning
beauty had entertained 65 jaarans, and she remembered the body marks
of them all to substantiate her "naming" the men. It is said that
the smarthans stopped questioning her when it was almost clear that
the 65th jaaran to be named was the king himself.



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