The paper argues that the formation of modern gender identities in late 19th and early 20th Century Keralam was deeply implicated in the project of shaping governable subjects who were, at the one and
same time, ‘free’ and already inserted into modern institutions. Because gender appeared both ‘natural’ and ‘social’, both ‘individualised’ and ‘general’, it appeared to be a superior form of social order compared to the established jati-based ordering. The actualisation of a superior society ordered by gender was seen to be dependent upon the shaping of full-fledged Individuals with strong internalities and well-developed gendered capacities that would place them within the distinct social domains of the public and domestic as ‘free’ individuals, who, however would be bound in a complementary relationship. By the 1930s, however, this public / domestic divide came to the blurred with the rapid spread of disciplinary institutions. Womanhood came to be associated not with a domain but with a certain form of power. And with this, Malayalee women gained access to public life and with it, a highly ambiguous liberation.