Between Two Independent Minds: I C Chacko and Nidheerikkal Mariam

[ Excerpts from ‘Kudumbajeevitham’, from the biography of the renowned geologist and scholar I C Chacko, by Mathew Ulakamthara — I C Chacko, Thiruvananthapuram: Dept of Cultural Publications, 1995, 111-13]

Mrs I C Chacko, or Mariam Nidheerikkal, was a vocal, articulate defender of women’s rights in early twentieth century Kerala. One of her speeches is included in the Speeches page. This account of her marriage clearly is by someone barely sympathetic to her.

I C Chacko’s parents had three sons and a daughter… Chacko was the youngest.  He married after his return after higher education in England. The wedding was on 17 May 1909. The bride was Mariam, the daughter of the famous lawyer Syriac Nidheeri,  He was the younger brother of Nidheerikkal Mani Kathanaar, the leader of the Syrian Christian’s freedom movement. He had married an heiress, Mariamma, daughter of Nirayathu Kaakkichan, and settled in Alappuzha. He had six children of which a son, Abraham, died in infancy; a son and four daughters survived. The oldest was the son, J C Nidhiry, and then I C’s wife Mariam, the third child was Ely (later became a nun), then Treasa, and lastly, Anna. Each of these rose to occupy credible positions. Treasa Nidhiri MA LT became an Inspectress in the Education Department of the Madras Presidency. Anna Nidhiri retired as the principal of the Government College for Women in Thiruvananthapuram. The oldest daughter Mariam had passed the FA exam from Government Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram. But she was married soon and her education did not continue. The alliance was proposed by some relatives in Alappuzha and Chacko visited Mariam who was staying with relatives in Thiruvananthapuram as a student. At the end of the year, Mariam came down with a fever and her suitor went to inquire after her health a couple of times. The girl did not know that her family was planning to marry them.  So she apparently asked, “why is this Mr Chacko coming over to visit me frequently,” remember some of their older relatives. Irrespective of whether this is true or false, it gives an indication about Mariam Chacko’s nature!

Some old men of Pulinkunnam remember I C Chacko’s wedding as a big, memorable event. The festooned decorations stretched from Pulinkunnam to Punnakkunnathussery. The bride and groom arrived in a decorated large canoe, accompanied by bedecked smaller ones. The feast was for all around, from one hundred paras of rice. ,,, Chacko settled in Thiruvananthapuram with his wife. A son and daughter were born to them, Beban (George Abraham Syriac) was born on 1919 March 23… Baby (Anna Mariam Chacko) was born on 1926 February 28…

I C Chacko was a loving father, remembers his daughter. He paid much attention to his son’s education.,, Chacko’s family life was serene and trouble-free. The credit for that goes mostly to Chacko’s dignified manner and self-control. Mrs Chacko was an independent mind and an advocate of women’s liberation. A speech she made in a women’s meeting at Pala in 1102 M E (1927) led to much controversy. Her arguments about women deserving equal rights in the family property, about banning dowry, and setting women’s age of marriage at twenty-one may not be very relevant today but back then, these words, arising from the mouth of a Catholic woman, shocked the conservatives. Much discussion took place in the newspapers and on podiums after it. Both the speech-maker and her husband received many anonymous letters…

The advantages and failings that naturally arise in the conjugal relationship between two independent minds that accepted and respected each other were found in their marriage. Once she said that the quality she respected the most in him was honesty. “He speaks only the truth, and does only that is true, ” she said. But this did not grow into submission to him. This led to some crises at the dusk of life.

Mrs Chacko’s brother died at the age of 67 heirless in 1950. The three daughters became heirs to the vast wealth owned by Syriac Nidhiri. ,,,Because the daughters were unmarried, it fell upon Chacko and his family to manage all these properties. The three sisters, Chacko, and some close relatives gathered in the sisters’ home at Alappuzha to discuss matters regarding the future management of these properties. I C opined that it may be easier to set up a common office to manage the Nidheerikkal properties and his own, through managers. Mrs Chacko did not like this. “Chackocchan may confine his attention to Illipparambil [his own family],” she said, “We will take care of matters regarding the Nidhiris’s properties.”

Chacko rose from his seat. “My daughter, who will you be living with, Mummy or Papa,” he asked. The daughter left with her dearest Pappy (she called her father Pappy). From then on, Chacko and his daughter lived in the Illiparambil bungalow. Mariam Chacko stayed with her sisters in Alappuzha. After Baby got married, she and M P Thomas (her husband) visited her mother occasionally and helped her. Rarely, Chacko and his wife visited each other…

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