The Thirst for an Education in Travancore in the 1930s: Manu S Pillai

[This is an excerpt from Manu S Pillai’s The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, Harper Collins, India, p. 281]

“Scholarships were granted to girls for advanced studies outside the state, but the proliferation of women’s education under Sethu Lakshmi Bayi resulted in demand always surpassing supply of funds. One Janaki Amma wrote a moving letter to the Dewan stating that unless she could find money, she would be forced to return from the Lady Willingdon Medical School in Madras to her village and discontinue her education. The authorities could do little, as ‘there are already two [girls]in the Madras Medical College and two in the Vellore Medical School and all allotments had run out… Yet applications came in, and one eighteen-year-old called V Mary ‘on bended knee’ approached the Dewan to ask for a grant later that  year [1929]. She was a Mukkuva girl from the fishing community, demonstrating that across the board, interest in female education was steadily increasing. Muslims, Ezhavas, Christians, and others applied eagerly and it was telling of the kind of diversity in terms of caste as well as economic background when a typical board recommendation read how a certain application could receive funds ‘similar to the one already granted to Amina Bee Sahiba or Miss N Lakshmi.’


















Domesticating Malayalees : J Devika


This paper tries to unsettle the naturalized association often assumed in the existent literature between the modern family and the small family in 20th century Malayalee society. Instead, it attempts to
trace out the shaping of certain life-options in discourse from the mid-19th century onwards that would increasingly mobilize the desire of modern Malayalees and play an important role in directing them towards
the small family norm. The entire notion of parental responsibility was redefined in a crucial way in and through these processes; secondly, the ability of the state to intervene in the family was also strengthened and legitimized. These were, of course central to the willing acceptance of the Family Planning Programme in mid-20th century Malayalee society. It is also important to inquire about the specific paths through which these life-options began to appear both reasonable and desirable to different social groups in this society, but since this points at far more
intensive and prolonged research, the paper attempts only to open up some ground tentatively.

Read the paper here.

Imagining Women’s Social Space in Early Modern Keralam: J Devika


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.

Read the paper here

Come Back! : Lalitambika Antharjanam

[These are excerpts from my translation of her story included in the volume On the Far Side of Memory, New Delhi, OUP, 2018. Lalitambika’s distrust of the repression of the body despite her great admiration for Gandhi was palpable, and this story illustrates it well.] Continue reading “Come Back! : Lalitambika Antharjanam”

19th Century Malayali Dalit Women, Missionaries and the Quest for Faith in Christianity: Vinil Paul

Translated by J Devika

The entry of Kerala’s dalit people into Christianity was made possible by the three missionary organizations that arrived in the 19th century: the London Mission Society (LMS) (arrival: 1806), the Church Missionary Society (CMS) (1816), and the Basel Mission (BM), which reached Malabar in 1836. The missionary archives reveals that the individuals who joined the centres set up by missionaries were mostly dalit women. Continue reading “19th Century Malayali Dalit Women, Missionaries and the Quest for Faith in Christianity: Vinil Paul”

Miss Kumari’s Stardom : Malayalam’s First Studio Actress — Darshana S Mini.

 The decade of 1950s witnessed the efflorescence of film studios based in Kerala along with a burgeoning pool of local talent in Malayalam cinema. Among the locally discovered actresses was Thresiamma, who in a short time stole the limelight under the screen name “Miss Kumari” and became one of the most visible faces of the Malayalam studio films. Continue reading “Miss Kumari’s Stardom : Malayalam’s First Studio Actress — Darshana S Mini.”

 The Many Incarnations of Kuriyedathu Thatri

[These are excerpts from my introduction written for the translation of Madampu Kunhikkuttan’s acclaimed novel, BhrashtOutcaste (trans. Vasanthy Sankaranarayanan, OUP, New Delhi, 2019) ]

More than a century after the sensational excommunication of Kuriyedathu Thatri and a very large of men who she allegedly reported to be her paramours shook the aristocracy of the Hindu kingdom of Kochi, the story continues to haunt the imagination of Malayalis. Continue reading ” The Many Incarnations of Kuriyedathu Thatri”

The First-Generation Feminists on Sex, Contraception, and Self-building

[This is an excerpt from my article titled ‘The Malayalee sexual revolution: Sex, ‘liberation’ and family planning in Keralam’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 39,3 , 2005.]

….  From the late 19th century, disapproval of artificial contraception was often linked to anxieties in Malayalee society about realising the ideal modern Self against older socio-economic and cultural orders.  In turn, the project of modern Self-building was seen to be dependent on attaining a high degree of self-discipline, expressed, in particular, in sexual self-restraint (Devika 1999). The idea that vigorous sexual desire was pathological, the conviction that sexual self-control was central to Self-building, and the fear that artificial contraception would open up a Pandora’s Box of sexual chaos, were notions that were frequently voiced in the Malayalee public sphere from the 1930s onwards when artificial contraception began to be discussed. Continue reading “The First-Generation Feminists on Sex, Contraception, and Self-building”

Lust for Life: Desire in Lalitambika Antarjanam’s Writings

[This is an excerpt from my essay in Sexualities published by Women Unlimited, New Delhi and edited by Nivedita Menon]

‘Ormayude Appurattu’29 (On the Far Side of Memory) belongs to the above-mentioned group of Antarjanam’s texts that re-visions the Masculine and the Feminine and their commingling. A mere biological event — the union of the sperm and the egg in human procreation — is transformed into nothing less than what appears to be the eternal drama of the union of Feminine and Masculine. The breathless, rapturous narration captures the agony and the ecstasy of the sperm on its journey towards the womb. The sperm, springing to life, moves, propelled by desire-as-trshna. Continue reading “Lust for Life: Desire in Lalitambika Antarjanam’s Writings”