This is the fifth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Moorkothu Kumaran has been translated by K R GOPIKRISHNA.
Moorkothu Kumaran (1874- 1941) was one of Malayalam’s earliest short story writers, literary critics, and public intellectuals. Born in the avarna Thiyya community in north Malabar, he was educated at Thalassery and Madras and was closely associated with Sreenarayana Guru. He was active in the SNDP Yogam in its early years and highly influential through his pioneering journalism and contributions to modern Malayalam, as it was shaped in and through the new voices that were now heard in the emergent public sphere.
Below is an excerpt from an essay of his titled ‘Oru Pusrushasamajam’ (A Men’s Association), in which he indulges in a fantasy of a social event set in 2029. Written in the late nineteenth century, it imagines a world which women have taken over, and where the Manusmrithi is a long-lost and obscure text, while the writings of late-nineteenth century women authors, like Tottaikkattu Ikkavamma, are widely in circulation. In other words, a world in which the aachaaram of Manu has somewhat declined, though there are indications that it has not disappeared fully.
Reading this, one cannot help noticing the fallacy often shared, sadly enough, by reformers and conservatives, then and now: that empowered women will merely seize patriarchal-caste-heteronormative power and exercise it unchanged. And so their imagined utopias of gender equality inevitably look like the inverted version of patriarchal society. But perhaps Moorkoth Kumaran leaves us a clue about why this was so: as is evident from the extract below, caste seems alive and well despite the disappearance of Manusmrithi– the privileged sudra identity of Menon, Nair seem untouched, alongside upwardly mobile individuals born in lower castes aspiring to the new savarna status. It is not, however, clear that Moorkoth makes this gesture deliberately.
Sadly enough, this aspect of the emergent order of gender, in which the new empowered woman (irrespective of where she originates in the spectrum of castes sharing the renewed Brahmin-sudra social contract or among the avarna individuals who seek upward mobility into the savarna, partakes in the refurbished savarna power) was hardly ever discussed. In this fantasy, it is stretched to its maximum, and so the ‘oppressed’ men now complain of women inverting the order, in effect, behaving like upper caste men of the late19th century. Women have removed all portions of aachaaram that limit them and imposed those on men, but they have not delegitimised caste, one may suppose. In short, women have managed to replace words like paativratyam with others like patnivratyam.
To avoid this we have, precisely, the insistence- still audible in left cultural circles as well — that women are not interested in sameness, only equality. Sameness within the new savarna order would mean that women may take caste power and that may even make them conspire to impose a cultural agenda in their favour, proscribing scriptural authority that sanctions make authority. It is not merely the love of ‘Indian culture’, but also this fear that makes the Indian right wing and the still-savarna reformers on the left embrace the infamous despoilation of women’s public voice – in two different ways-during last year’s savarna mutiny against the Supreme Court’s verdict about the entry of women of menstruating ages into Sabarimala.
Of course visions of feminist utopia have been strikingly different in that they envisage the wholesale elimination of all forms of patriarchy, but then when both the really-existing left and the right both are interested only in demonising the feminists, their protestations will be surely ignored.
A Men’s Association
A meeting that may be held a hundred years into the future
AD 2029 October 1, Tuesday, Kanni 15, 1205, the Kollam Era: An important convention of Kerala Men’s Association is being held on the westside garden of Smt. VCR Amma M.A. M.L.C.’s house at Kozhikode (Calicut). Sri Narayanan Nambiar (husband of High Court judge L D Amma M.A. B.L.) was chosen to preside to over the meeting based on the suggestion of Smt. TKG Amma B.A. M.R.A.S.’s husband Sri Kannaran, which was seconded by Barrister Smt. B K Amma’s husband Sri. Gopala Menon. In his inaugural speech, the President spoke engagingly about men’s lack of freedom He essentially pondered how in the older times, men were free and were educated, and how they worked and earned when women engaged in domestic duties, serving their husbands, bearing and nurturing their children, and how peace prevailed in households and the society in those days. He spoke in detail, and with considerable poignancy, how, in contemporary times, women have attained education, entered into all government jobs, and become members of the governing bodies and legislatures t and how this has destroyed the freedom of men. Finally, he said, “Dear brothers, there are umpteen illustrations to prove that the brave men who were our ancestors enjoyed freedom in households and the country. I have found reasons to believe there existed a great scripture named Manu-Samhita. In it, it is stipulated that even education must be denied to women. Somewhere I have read that Manu-Samhita is the rule-book for the Hindus. I have been able to find documents proving that women were men’s slaves and women’s worlds were confined to the kitchen and bedroom only – cooking food and taking care of children. Women have destroyed Manu-Samhita completely, without sparing a single copy.
“Freedom is not for women
The Father will save her at adolescence
The Husband will save her at adulthood
The Son will save her at old-age.”
Thus states this scripture of antiquity. It appears that that this section has been redacted out from the edition of this scripture currently in publication. A drama written by a poetess who died 125 years ago is being circulated by the women of our times. Though it was an attempt to prove women were scholarly at those times, however, a sloka confirming that women didn’t have freedom at those times, was included in the print. Also, it can be understood that women wrote poetry rarely and men considered them incapable of it. This was that sloka:
“Didn’t Krishna’s beloved Bhama fight?
Didn’t Subhadra ride a chariot?
Isn’t all this world ruled by Victoria?
If the beauties can accomplish all these,
How will they be incapable to writing a poem?”
What can you decipher from this shloka? Does it not hint that women wrote poetry rarely? That they were considered inadequate to it? If these justifications were given for a woman writing a poem, doesn’t it mean that these were early attempts of women writing poetry? Now, we don’t blame women for being newspaper editors, poets or dramatists. We hinder do not them from being one. We don’t disapprove of them occupying any office, as much as they can. Our sole grievance is against reducing men to slaves capable of only doing domestic work. Is it fair that the burden of care and protection of children they bear is turned into a liability of ours?
They haven’t done enough to meet our educational needs. Despite our raising our need for exclusive schools and colleges many times, they have ignored us. Despite their decision that we are capable of only domestic work and after having forced us into it, they have not provided us with the necessary instruction in domestic work at school. We are being offered the same subjects and textbooks as them. Young women ill-treat youngsters who are forced to study in the same schools as them. Meanwhile, the infamous tale of how a young woman threw a letter at a high school-going youth and how he complained to the principal, and how she did not inquire into the matter at all against the offending woman has been in the news. Headmistresses also do not listen to the complaint that young women are spilling ink on the shirts of young men and bothering them thus! Though exclusive elementary schools have been established for us in a few places, it is a concern that it was all women who were appointed as teachers. Though a few amongst us has risen to become elementary level headmasters, they are harmed by transferring them off to faraway lands.
Apart from all this, women insult us claiming that our vows to our wives – our patnivratyam – are insufficient and slander us in their newspapers. That few youngsters amongst us are living as ganikanmaar– prostitutes – in certain city houses that they have leased is indeed a great weakness on our side. But the responsibility to abolish it is on the women who rule and they have failed to act on it. A woman member has introduced a bill in the legislature to abolish the system of polyandry and it is deeply concerning that few other women members are opposing the bill. You all must be aware from the invitation that this today’s meeting is being heldwas convened to discuss this matter and send a joint-representation to the Lady Governor. As my time is limited, I conclude my address and request the subsequent proceedings to be held.
(K R Gopikrishna is a Master’s student of Political Science at University of Hyderabad.)