[Of the many groups who were subjected to the torture of the Janma-bhedam order (the order of difference-by- birth – caste) in pre-modern Kerala, the women of the Malayala brahmin community figured quite high. If people condemned to live outside the varna order were structurally and physically coerced to produce the material means to reproduce the order of caste on an everyday basis, women of the Malayala brahmin community were structurally and physically coerced to reproduce the community and its core culture on a generational basis. For this reason, I think that the the struggle of the Malayala brahmin women to escape the ‘great hells’ – the mahanarakams – have to be reexamined carefully when we rethink the history of women as an intersectional one in which the historical shaping of caste and gender are closely intertwined. Too often, this struggle has been reduced to or recounted in, terms set up the Reformist-Man, as an alibi for the power of the new modernised masculinity.
Below is a small section from a report on the meeting of an organization of Malayala brahmin women called the Antharjana Samajam, which was formed in 1931, but which became very active in the 1940s. The Antharjana Samajam aimed at opening up paths to education and employment for Malayala brahmin women and in the 1940s, members wrote and acted the play Tozhilkendrathilekku [To the Work-Centre]. Interestingly, though much discussion on reformist plays among the Malayala brahmins which had revolutionary effects has indeed happened in the Malayali public, this one remained largely obscure until the 1990s and after. It was one written and enacted by women themselves.
The characters of the play are quite distinctly different than in the male reformist plays by V T Bhattatiripad and others– there are more female than male characters, and of different dispositions and views. The male characters too are not divided into the good/reformer men and the bad/traditional man. Rather, both male characters are insidious – one, a hypocrite of a lawyer who seeks to confine women to powerless domesticity and the other, a slave of tradition. The play was truly far-sighted — the hypocrite, who marries Devaki, one of the reformist women, is an RSS man!
Below are translated excerpts from this play. The source : T Ushakumari (ed.) Tozhilkendrathilekku, Thrissur: Samata, 2014.]
The Vakil’s Sitting Room
Eight o’clock in the morning.
(The vakil, Palappram Jr., is in a pajama and inner shirt, doing RSS volunteer practice. He is about 30 years of age. He holds a sword and shield in his hand and is practicing fencing. Devaki, his new bride, sings a love song from an inner room. The vakil hears it; Devaki enters.)
Vakil: Is it fine, this singing all the time? Can’t you read some newspaper or magazine after breakfast?
Devaki: Hey, what’s this? This sword and shield and all?
Vakil : This is the RSS! I am doing the volunteer practice! Haven’t you heard – Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh?
Devaki: Yes, have heard, have heard . But -uh,oh! So it’s like this? Didn’t know! Alright, let me say something? Will you listen?
Vakil: Any doubt? I am listening (puts his sword and shield down. Sits down, lifts one leg and places his foot on the table). Will listen to anything. Um, ok, what do you want?
Devaki: Oh, that – I’ll tell you. There’s an announcement in the paper — the Vellinezhi Upasabha meeting is on 2 Kumbham. Shouldn’t we attend?
Vakil: Go to Vellinezhi? What’s to be found there? Except some cussing by the communists? Better to dig around the banana patch if I had that time!
Devaki: Sad it is, really, you say this every day. I want to go. There’s going to be the play that was performed at the Mahasabha. I want to see it.
Vakil: Alright. This is what you want? Want to go to the sabha, want to see the play — just these? I am telling you, there’s the Haindava Mahasammelanam in Kumbham, at Thrissur; let’s attend it. There’s a play there by Vakkam Vas’even Nair, Streedharmam. Let’s see that one.
Devaki (miffed): Not good enough. I want to go to Vellinezhi. Tell me, tell me, won’t you?
Vakil: Not for any other reason really — I am saying, if we go and mix with these low born types we’ll end up stirring up a useless fuss!
Devaki: There’ll be no fuss. Those people there are quite like us, aren’t they? What’s there to make such a fuss?
Vakil: No, that’s not it. They aren’t like us, are they? That’s the pinch… (thinks) Oh- (looks at his diary) the second … oh, can’t go on the second — that’s the day the Edathra-family’s case is going to be heard. I need to reach the court early.
Devaki: Oi, oi, oi — do you need to go to court on Sundays too? ‘Sunday lawyers’ — have only heard that !
Vakil: Hey-y – that’s Sunday! Maybe this diary’s wrong (thinks) oh, alright, there’s a meeting on the second at Kozhisherry Nambutiri’s illam. He’s told me to be there, specially. It’s about the fund, so will have to be there for sure.
Devaki: Ok, then don’t come. I’ll go with Parvathy.
Vakil: Hey, no, no. You aren’t to go with her… (seeing someone come through the gate) Someone is coming… Go inside now.
Devaki: Let them come. Tell me this. Can I go to Vellinezhi?
Vakil: Let’s talk about it later. Quick, get inside.
Devaki: Tell me this? Can I go?
Vakil: Hey, didn’t I tell you, I’ll ;et you know (gets up, holds Devaki by her shoulder, moves her.) Now go inside, Uh, go in, I say. Uh, uh! Can’t you see some outsider coming?
Devaki: Let him! What’s the problem? What is his problem if I stand here?
Vakil: What if he asks something? Go inside for now.
Devaki: Can I go to Vellinezhi? If you tell me, I will do.
Vakil: Do what you like – just go in now. Let this get over — everything can be later.
Devaki: I’m telling you, I will be going .