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.
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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.
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