Womanliness: Parvati Nenminimangalam

Translated by J Devika

[ Parvati Nenminimangalam (-  1947) was born in Irinjalakkuda in Thrissur district. She became active in the Nambutiri (Malayala Brahmin) reformist work after her marriage, and soon rose to be one of the most outspoken and radical female voices within it. She was one of the chief organisers of Ghoshabahishkaranam (breach of seclusion) actions of the Antarjanams (Malayala Brahmin women), which were of vital importance in their challenge to traditional restrictions.

She was also a key figure in the drafting of a petition by Antarjanams asking for a separate forum for Antarjanams at the Guruvayoor Conference (1931) of the radical wing of Nambutiri reformism, the Nambutiri Yuvajana Sangham. As a member of the Legislative Council of Kochi, she was part of the Select Committee appointed to inquire about the opinions of the community to the proposed Kochi Nambutiri Bill (ultimately passed in 1932-33). In fact, a section of the Nambutiri orthodoxy petitioned the Maharajah of Kochi that they were unable to give evidence before the Committee as Parvati Nenminimangalam, a member, was an outcast (Nazrani Deepika, 10 Jun. 1932). She was known to be a powerful, provocative public speaker. The Mahila described her in 1932 as the ‘Joan of Arc of the Nambutiri empire’ (The Mahila 12 (3,4), 1932, p.159). Many of her articles appeared in the 1930s.]

[A later version of this translation appeared in my book Her-Self, Stree/Samya, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]


[ ‘Streetvam’, Stree 1 (1) M.E. 1108 Edavam (May-June 1932-33): 15-6)]


Something put together for great poets to describe; a form shaped for men to feast their eyes upon—a hoax, plainly. But a beautiful assemblage that we adore – yes, Womanliness is a creature that worships bondage as matter of pride.

I ask, do we not today pride in our servitude, in our craving for pompous show? Men must toil, earn money, get ornaments made, soft mattresses filled, and velvet jackets stitched. And we should adorn ourselves with all this, carrying on placidly upon those mattresses. That is Man’s desire, Woman’s pride! If a woman labours in a field, she is dubbed vulgar! A woman does not wear a velvet blouse, her neck is not covered with jewellery; she does not wear a saree with brocade — she falls below the mark!! Where, then, are we to find freedom?

With the very same tongue that makes liberationist appeals, we nag our husbands for brocade sarees, gold ornaments and subjection! Do we not today take to such clothing styles and ornaments just to seduce men? God has already differentiated Woman and Man at birth. Why separate again with contrivances? Only to dupe each other.

Why should we grow our hair long? Simply to waste three hours a day at untangling and combing it shiny. Why swathe ourselves in so many garments like torches with many bits of cloth rolled around? Certainly not to cover the body. The arms of the blouse shouldn’t be more than an inch long, nor should the neck be narrow. Even if two or three garments are worn, only half the body should be concealed. How ideal a mode of dressing!

Wearing a neckful of ornaments serves merely to cause default in interest-payment, and fill the coffers of the jewel-merchants. Ears and the nose are pierced only to be filled once more with diamond-encrusted pins. Continuing thus, how many are the lewd vanities we smugly submit to? Where is freedom for us unless all this is smashed?

Irrespective of whether this humbug was made the law by men, or fashioned by women on their own, it serves no other purpose but seduction. We do not need to seduce men; that is coarse and despicable. A woman must seduce only her husband. But not by fraudulent decking up. We will definitely have reason to regret if we marry men thus deceived by our guileful apparel. We may be sure that as soon as our adornments are soiled, he will retract. One must seduce only with genuine affection- Love. Such Love is within the power of any woman; that alone will suffice to seduce the husband.

If I have a word, we will attain freedom only through casting out the usual practice within which we remain frail. We should get rid of our fancy attire and adornments; it is necessary to cover the body, but it should not serve ostentatious display. Women and men need no difference in clothing.

Education is essential; but it is not necessary that one must study in a school. Women must acquire special training in home management and childcare. Work is not dishonour, but dignity. For both Woman and Man, earning one’s own livelihood is certainly a matter of dignity. Women will gain their true freedom and Womanliness only when they toil alongside men, diligently and well.







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