Cabaret Dancing and the Malayali Feminists’ Moral Burden – K R Gouri Amma from the 1970s

[On 27 February 1974, K R Gouri Amma called for attention under Rule 16 in the Kerala State Legislative Assembly, drawing attention to the ‘menace’ of ‘naked dancing’ in Kerala. The translated version of her speech is below. It was perhaps one of the few matters on which the right and left, men and women who claimed to be decent, were all in public agreement – ‘naked dancing’ lowers the moral standards of a culture. This page from the records of the Kerala State Legislative Assembly does not give us any clue of who these ‘naked dancers’ were – they seem to have been a group of women with a male manager. They had actually secured permission from the local government authorities for their performances.

Continue reading “Cabaret Dancing and the Malayali Feminists’ Moral Burden – K R Gouri Amma from the 1970s”

More on Elite Women’s ‘Social Work’ and the History of Caste in Kerala

[This is a continuation from the post on the autobiography of Jooba Ramakrishna Pillai which gives us a glimpse into how educated neo-savarna women usurped all the opportunities for social intervention by or for women in the state. It gives us food for critical thought on why social conservatism came to be so deep-rooted in Kerala despite high levels of women’s education won through struggle. Interestingly, many leading first-generation feminists enjoyed the most amicable relations with educated neo-savarna women even when their own visions of empowerment were different — for example, the friendship between Anna Chandy and Mrs Ponnamma Thanu Pillai.

Below is an excerpt from a discussion on the Social Welfare Advisory Board constituted in Tiru-Kochi, during an assembly session of the Tiru-Kochi State Assembly, from the Proceedings of the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly (vol.XIII, no. 2 ), 15 March 1955, Starred Question No. 30, pp. 93-6.

I am struck by how the discussion completely bypasses the question of dalit representation that Mr K Kunjan tried to raise in it. Indeed, he initiates this discussion but is completely ignored in the actual exchange that follows. Most of the women in the Board are neo-savarna; they have been chosen for ‘reasons that are not clear’. Yet no one really questions this appalling exclusion of avarna women! Smt K R Gouri intervenes not for Mr Kunjan or for dalit women, but for Mahila Sangham, the communist movement’s women’s wing, which she seems to think, can balance the neosavarna women’s overwhelming presence. Then the discussion deteriorates into frivolous questions. Also striking is the carelessness with which the Chief Minister answers questions in the debate, mixing up positions, even.

Once again, the absence of avarna women is ignored in so casual a way, it takes your breath away!

I do believe that this incident, and many like it, must be retrieved to build a history of casteist women’s empowerment in twentieth century Kerala.]

Social Welfare Advisory Board

Starred question 30 [15] Shri P Kunjan: Will be Chief Minister be pleased to state

(a) How many members are there in the State Social Welfare Advisory Board?

(b) who constituted this Board, this Government or the Central Government, and,

(c) is there any representation for scheduled castes?

Chief Minister (Shri Panampalli Govinda Menon): There are nine members in the State Social Welfare Advisory Board in Travancore-Cochin;

(b) the Board was constituted by the State Government with the concurrence of the Central Social Welfare Board.

(c) the representatives do not appear to have been selected on consideration of their caste.

Shri P Kunjan: May I know the names of the Members of the Board?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon: The names of the Members are these —

  1. Sry. P Thankamma, Secretary, Mahilamandiram, Trivandrum (Chairman)
  2. Miss Sosa Mathew, Secretary, Y. W. C. A, Kerala Branch, Thiruvalla.
  3. Mrs Leela Damodara Menon, Ottappalam.
  4. Mrs. Pattom Thanu Pillai.
  5. Shri Cherian Thomas, District Organiser, Bhoodan Committee, Kottayam
  6. Mrs. Pavizham Madhavan Nair, Ernakulam.
  7. Sry P Janaki Amma, Chairman, Municipal Council, Ernakulam.
  8. Mrs K A Mathew, Thiruvalla
  9. Secretary to the Government, Education Department.

Smt K R Gouri [in Malayalam]: On what basis were these persons made representatives?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon :[answers in Malayalam] The basis is not clear from the file. Four of them have been nominated at the recommendation of the Central Board. These are Miss Sosamma Mathew, Leela Damodara Menon, Mrs Pattom Thanu Pillai and Shri Cherian Thomas. It appears that the others have been appointed on the recommendation of this government.

Smt K R Gouri: Is Leela Damodara Menon a native of Tiru-Kochi?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : Shri Damodara Menon is of this State.

Smt K R Gouri: Will it be believed if I said that he is an elected MP from Malabar?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The address given is of Ottappalam.

Smt K R Gouri: Was someone from Malabar selected because there are no women in Tiru-Kochi?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : I too have no idea about that.

Smt K R Gouri: Has any attention been paid to granting representation to a Mahila Sangham that is now active in Tiru-Kochi now?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The Chairman of that organisation is the Secretary of this committee. [PGM has inverted the positions here]

Smt K R Gouri: That is the Mahilamandiram. It is a mere institution.

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : That must be an institution. Whether it is a mere institution, I do not know.

Smt K R Gouri: Do you know that it is run in Poojappura?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : Yes, I do.

Smt K R Gouri: Since the women’s organisation has not been given representation, will you make an effort to secure it representation at least now?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : I do not know if it is possible to add new members. This is run according to the Central Government’s plan. I cannot say now if new members may be added.

Smt. K R Gouri: Should not a member of an organisation that does social work among women be coopted?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The numbers of positions fixed for the Board have been filled. But that does not mean that no other deserving people exist.

Smt K R Gouri: In that case, can speedy measures be undertaken to coopt such people?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : A reply is possible only after finding out if it is possible to add more members.

Smt K R Gouri: If it is possible to do so after due inquiry, will it be done?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : If so, will see.

Sri N G Chacko: Can the sole woman Member of this Assembly be coopted too?

Mr Speaker [in English]: That is a very pertinent question.

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon [in English]: And it is a good suggestion too.

(Laughter)

Shri T K Divakaran: Is there anything that says that only women should do social work?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : There is a male Member on the Board. Shri Cherian Thomas is a man. He does welfare work too.

Shri T K Divakaran: Is social work to be done only among women?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : It is mainly to be done among women and children.

Shri T K Divakaran: What social work does Mr Cherian Thomas do?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : He is a Bhoodan organiser.

Kuttykkunhu Thangkachi: Kerala’s First Female Playwright and Carnatic Music Composer

In the nineteenth century, there was a generation of privileged women contributing to the traditional genres of Malayalam literature. Among them, Kuttykkunhu Thangkachi leads the list as the first dramatist and first-known female music composer from Kerala. While early historians may have tried to undermine her contributions as a capable homemaker and virtuous woman who managed to write poetry tolerable well, there is no denying her astonishing range of compositions in Carnatic music.

Read more at: https://www.sahapedia.org/kuttykkunhu-thangkachi-keralas-first-female-playwright-and-carnatic-musics-composer

The Sugar-Sweet Kiss: Lalitambika Antharjanam

[This is an excerpt from the translation included in the collection of her translated short stories On the Far Side of Memory, New Delhi, OUP, 2018]

 

Two little eyes opened, just a teeny bit. But shut tight again, as if the light jabbed them. He stretched, nice and slow. A moment at the line dividing sleep and wake. Sleep had bid goodbye. Wake had not yet arrived. Continue reading “The Sugar-Sweet Kiss: Lalitambika Antharjanam”

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”

The Blue Seams of Writing – In Memory of Lalitha P Nair: K R Meera

Sasthamkotta:

Wife of ex Member of Parliament V P Nair’s wife and writer Lalitha P Nair (79) (Tilak Bhawan, Manakkara) passed away. A member of the Koyikonanth family, Thumbamon, Pandalam, her major published works were Lalithanjali, Ormakal Marikkunnilla, and Smrithimayukham. Sons: Dr Sasidharan, Dr Harikumar (both London), Vishwanathan Nair (Tilak Paints, Sasthamkotta). Daughters-in-law: Chandrika, Padmaja, Maheswari.

Just five lines — and a woman’s whole life is done — how easy. Someone’s wife, a writer of three books, the mother of three sons — that is all left behind when her life congeals. Her smiles and tears are not recorded. Continue reading “The Blue Seams of Writing – In Memory of Lalitha P Nair: K R Meera”

‘Malayali Marriage Modified’: K Padmavathy Amma

Translated by J Devika

[an earlier version of this appeared in my book Her-Self, published by Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005]

The damsels, they run, they hide,

 Seeing the man with beard all gray 1

In those days, it seems, shaving was not as common as it is now. If it had been common, then Sheelavati’s husband wouldn’t have been so aggrieved. Continue reading “‘Malayali Marriage Modified’: K Padmavathy Amma”