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“No home for girls ..she’s a visitor at her parents homes after marriage..maika or sasural..she never has a home of her own.” I came across this message on various social media groups and Was surprised when women ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ it.
It speaks volumes of women trapped in patriarchal structures, expected to conform to traditions and customs simply because of their gender – change of names, surnames, gotra, adherence to customs, rituals, traditions, taking up responsibility of in-laws in their marital homes while giving up on their parental homes and so on. Most of these practices are heavily loaded in favour of men in the society.
A ‘bidai’ ceremony at the wedding for instance, signifies the transition from parental to marital homes involving not just shift of ‘home’, but also pose an existential crisis of her rights and privileges vis a vis her natal home. Did it somewhere signify the final severing of her umbilical cord, denying any further right to property or wealth of her parent’s home? We don’t really know how and why these customs hold tremendous power on social psyche or even have relevance today. But for women to be cut off from parental families physically, emotionally and psychologically for a lifetime can really crush her spirit.
Consider now a small minority of society that practices the matriarchal, matrilineal or matrilocal family system in India which is nothing but patriarchy. Most Indians aren’t aware of matriarchal society that exists among the Khasis and Garos of Meghalaya, Bunt-Nadava from Karnataka and large sections of Kerala- the royal families, Nairs, Ambilavasis, Warriers and many others who follow them.
In matrilineal family system, the lineage or bloodline flows from the daughters, so birth of a daughter is a much celebrated event as she is the heir (santanakutty) to the family like sons in patriarchy. The girls lived with her parents even after their marriage, the children born to her were raised in her natal family. The spouses either visited her or ‘moved into’ her family, which is termed matrilocal. But, women weren’t expected to ‘move out’ of their own families or relocate into marital homes.
Certain parts of Kerala where women were a dominant force, they ruled the ‘tharavad’ or family clan with authority and controlled property and wealth giving rise to term ‘matriarch’, who was usually the eldest daughter of the family or next in line.
Where women weren’t as strong or powerful, the eldest son discharged the duties as ‘karnavar‘ or head of family taking care of land and property, however all rights vested with women who continued to stay in natal homes, married or otherwise. So maternal uncles became head of the house, and though married he never brought over his wife, as she inevitably stayed with her family.
While there are many myths and beliefs surrounding the origin of the matriarchal society which continue to fascinate us and has been a debatable issue for several western anthropologists who were not only sceptical but also frowned upon of such a culture, as these studies were undertaken in the Victorian era of social order. Therefore it would be worthwhile to understand it how impactful it has been to women when contextualized with patriarchal societies.
Today, Indian women in a better position to set terms and conditions for marriages with education and financial empowerment and number of women in patriarchal societies have moved towards their own parents for support in raising families. Also, parents have discovered the joys to being closer to their daughters, unlike olden times when she was castaway as ‘paraya dhan’. So, daughters can become a source of strength and power for parents, we don’t need the courts to tell us that, when we appreciate the advantages of matriarchal families for being an enabler for better choices.
PS : It’s not about a choice of ‘maika’ or ‘sasural’ or if women ever have a home, but to acknowledge that every woman has her first home with her parents and no one need tell her that…
A version of this was first published here.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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