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Kerala Matrilineal Society

This is my parents on their wedding day. My mum is surrounded by her mother and sisters.

For South Asian heritage month I thought I would share some of the rich history of Kerala, where my parents and I were born.

The Nayars / Nairs (Hindu caste) of #Kerala had a #matrilineal society where descent was traced through women and the succession of property was from mothers to daughters.

Families lived together as joint families in large homes called ‘taravad’. Lineage was traced through women, children took the name of their mothers as their surname, and they stayed at the mother’s house even after they got married.

Property was passed down from mothers to daughters and owned by the #women in the family.

Women’s identities were not associated to their fathers or their husbands but to the ‘taravad‘ they belonged to which was identified with a female ancestor.

Women had autonomy over their sexuality and reproductive rights, and weren’t shamed or disrespected for it.

Women were granted much more social and financial security than they are today and which consequently gave them a voice and earned them respect in society.

When the #British arrived, they were “appalled” by this strange system where women were given so much choice and freedom.

There was much demand to abolish these “outlandish” practices from society.

In 1925, during the British rule, the shutters were drawn on the unique matrilineal system and the patrilineal system was introduced.

This spelt the decline of the system until its eventual abolition in 1975 (a few years after my parents were married).

However we still see the benefits of this system - strong women from Kerala in various facets of society across the globe.

When I was at Imperial College, the 3 Indian scientists in my department were all women from Kerala.

Ok - so if I have to look beyond my pond here are some other names you might recognise of individuals from Kerala who have gained recognition on the world stage:

🩺 Dr. Soumya Swaminathan - Chief Scientist at WHO

🏦 Gita Gopinath - Economist and IMF Chief Economist

📝 Kamala Surayya - Acclaimed Poet and Writer

🏃🏾‍♀️ Mercy Kuttan - Former Athlete and Arjuna Awardee

🥊 Mary Kom - Olympic Boxer and World Champion

🎥 Anjali Menon - Film Director and Screenwriter

Kerala still enjoys a high female literacy and low female infanticide rate across India, attributed to the matrilineal history.

I feel some of my strengths in advocating for equity comes from learning about this system very early in my childhood and feeling proud that I come from a place where women were not treated like second class citizens.

Let’s give all our #girls the same opportunity to believe in their potential to be equal citizens with equal rights to contribute to society.

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