Women’s Honour and the Travancore Census Report, 1941: T Narayani Amma Responds

[This short speech, below, by T Narayani Amma who represented the constituency Women in the Travancore Sree Mulam Assembly was part of the debate over the Adjournment Motion moved by Puliyoor TP Velayudhan Pillai on 26 January 1943 which claimed that the Census Report of Travancore of 1941 contained scandalous untruths about Marumakkathayi women in the state (besides untruths about savarna opposition to the spirit of the Temple Entry Proclamation). The Census Report contained statements that claimed (rather colourfully) that many women had become economically insecure after the dismantling of the joint family system and so were resorting to loose arrangements in order to secure “their daily bread.” To establish this, the Census Commissioner cited the statistics of larger number of married females compared to married males. Pillai expressed “great pain, sorrow, and disappointment” at this statement as he moved the Motion. Several other male members, including Pillai, supported the Motion, vehemently opposing this alleged attack on “the chastity of the whole of womenfolk of Travancore” (Pillai’s statement) and many indignant speeches followed. In general, the Census Commissioner Narayanan Tampi was accused of denigrating the respectability of women in Travancore with any real data on it. In general, they were also convinced that Marumakkathayi women would never “swerve from the path of true honour and chastity” (Sadasyatilakan T K Velu Pillai).

In his response to these angry remarks, the Census Commissioner said that he was merely trying to point out to the miserable condition of these women and did not mean to insult any community.  He also clarified that he had not “singled out women to blame. The men who are responsible for these vices, are more guilty than the women themselves.” The Dewan, however, refused to accept these clarifications and held that the language used was too general and constituted an insult, even if the purpose was salutary reformist zeal.

Narayani Amma’s response below may appear as though echoing these sentiments but it is clear that while she agrees on several points, there are some which she does not agree with (especially, the absolution of the men in the ‘loose arrangement’). But there are other points on which she seems to be actually disagreeing while agreeing!! Such were the perils of representing ‘Women’ as a nominee of the Government.

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SRM. T Narayani Amma :  Sir, I support the Motion. I am sorry and shocked to see in the Census Report what I cannot help characterising as a calumny directed against women, particularly against women of the Marumakkathayam communities, such as Nair, Ezhavas, and Vellalas. I cannot help pointing out, Sir, that the Census Commissioner’s views with regard to this matter lacks grace and truth and have to characterised as not only absurd but unwarranted and unchivalrous. It is a question to be answered with facts and figures whether women of any community are so low in their moral sense as to sell their virtue for their daily bread. I can, boldly and emphatically, say, Sir that there is absolutely no justification for such a statement. And in the Census Commissioner’s Report itself, no basic data or acceptable reason is given to show that it is so. It is a pity, Sir, that a statement of this nature finds a place in a document like the Census Report. The again, Sir, the assertion made in the Census Report about the morality of a section of the women of Travancore necessarily implies that there is a more or less equal number of men to seduce them into such a life. And if that is so then the degradation alleged in the report applies to both men and women. It is not understandable why the Commissioner has kept silent over that aspect of the question.

Sir, it is a matter of common knowledge that in education, culture and general attainments, the women of Travancore occupy a position far superior to that of the women of any other State or Province in India. It is also an admitted fact that the existence of a particular type of women leading questionable lives has not degraded womanhood in this part of India, in this Model State of Travancore. No doubt Sir, extraordinary economic conditions and the consequences of unemployment and other allied problems affect the conditions of many a middle class and poor family. But thanks to the foresight of the Government of H H The Maharaja of Travancore, the problems are being tackled in the best possible manner and under no circumstances will conditions arise in Travancore like those mentioned in the Report.

Under these circumstances, Sir, I cannot help pointing out once again that the assertions made by the Census Commissioner are absolutely baseless and constitute an unmerited insult offered to the womanhood of Travancore. And, it is a pity, as I said, that such an assertion find a place in an important document issued by the Government. In the name therefore of truth, justice and self-respect, I urge on behalf of the women of Travancore who I have the honour and privilege among my sister member of the Legislature to represent, to expunge this unpardonable calumny from the pages of the Census Report.

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