‘Womenfolk and Reform: Matters Necessary and Unnecessary’: Ittychiriyamma

Translated by J Devika

[this is an earlier version of a translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, from Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]

I do not think any of you will like my name. You would all be quite gratified if it were some neither-male-nor-female name like ‘Sarada Madhavan’ or ‘Kalyani Krishnan’. In fact, you would be satisfied if my name were ‘Ittichhiri Krishnan’. However, I am not inclined to renouncing my femininity and becoming sexless.

You may remind me of the ‘Radhakrishnan’ of yore. Well – there is nothing to be surprised if a man with sixteen thousand and eight wives falls into femininity. And not just that. You have to remember that ‘Radhakrishnan’ was Krishna’s name; it did not designate Radha. Then and now, Radha has been just Radha.

I have despised ‘Mrs.’ for long. What do you mean by ‘Mrs. Kanaran’ and so on? Why can’t a Cherootty or Kunhamma stay as Cherootty and Kunhamma? After marriage they turn into ‘ Mrs. Chappan’ or (Mrs.) Korappan. Reform, indeed! It’s as if women earn equality with men hanging behind them. Is this the only difficulty? If Kanaran dies today, Kanaran’s wife will wed an Ambu tomorrow. Then yesterday’s Mrs. Kanaran will become today’s Mrs. Ambu. Not to be stopped, the day after, she accepts a Koppan. And then? She must become Mrs. Koppan. If this is so, friends, how many times should a woman change her name? Is this reform? The difficulty doesn’t stop there either. Suppose someone who is unaware of these turn-abouts writes her a letter addressed to “Mrs. Kanaran”? Poor old Koppan, how miserable would he feel? Can’t that Cherootty keep her own name? All I feel for the admirers of such reform is disgust and dislike. And not to speak of the trouble when someone has many wives. ‘Mrs.’s, each and everyone!

I have no doubt that freedom is necessary for women. We definitely need freedom, education and respect in the community. To that extent I go along with the advocates of reform. Yet there is a point to be made. Where does our dignity lie? Is there dignity in wandering about begging in the streets? No. What then? If we cover ourselves from head to toe, with slits for the eyes and all wrapped up airtight like the women of the Mohammedan notables, will we be dignified? No! That can never be so. I see dignity in that older system that is neither of these—in the position of the Taravattamma. It is not as if we should not interact with anyone. We may meet together and talk with others. We may manage affairs and gather news of the world. Only that we must desist from ranting and raving in destructive crowds.

Education? That is necessary. But not the education to become nurses, teachers or clerks. What we need is education that will help us to raise our children properly, guide our husbands wisely and manage the affairs of the family efficiently. It must be understood that managing the home is not simply to cook and eat. Cooking and eating is but a minor element in family management.

The position of the Taravattamma has been lost in reform. Now, her place is occupied by the maid, and that of the Head of the Household is taken by the manservant. Thus our friends live, as slaves to these people. In my opinion, we ought to display our pride and freedom in matters such as these. Mrs. Cousins, Sant Nihal Singh and others praise the freedom of Malayalee women generously. The last Women’s Conference proudly publicised the incomparable freedom of the women of Keralam. It should never be forgotten that it was the dignity and grandeur of the Taravattammamar  that earned us such praise. Only such education that serves to preserve the greatness of our tradition will prove necessary and desirable for us: this I repeat.    








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