Friday, May 25, 2012

Streedhanam: Woman's Wealth or Groom Price in the Marriage Market.?

Streedhanam is the presentation of a very large sum of money amounting to lakhs and lakhs of rupees which the father of the bride gives to the groom's bride at the time of marriage as a share of the familial inheritance for his daughter.It represents the fundamental truncation of economic ties from her natal home with no claim to her father's property in a tomorrow to come, and her inclusion in her conjugal household.

The Syrian Christians observed certain rigid customary practices in the mode of giving streedhanam ages ago. It was wrapped in a white cloth and offered on a plantain leaf which is replaced in the young generation by the informal mode of handing over the amount in the form of draft or currency notes and even gold.

The daughter cannot in the forthcoming future claim a share in her father's assets and whatever she has been given as streedhanam is a share of her father's property [ Mary Roy in 1986 won against the inheritance legislation of the Keralite Syrian Christina community in the Supreme court. The historical verdict ensured equity for the Syrian Christian women in the parental property along with their male siblings, for before the case was filed the Syrian Christian community followed the provisions of the Travancore Succession act 1916 and Cochin Succession Act 1921 even as the other communities followed the Indian Succession act 1925] . As per the Travancore or Cochin succession acts the daughter was eligible for twenty five percent of the son's share or Rs. 5000 whichever was lesser if the father died intestate.
Streedhanam differs from the definition of dowry as given by Goody and Tambiah [1973] as a financial or conjugal fund that passes from the holder to the heir where the daughter is the heir of the familial property passed to her and is directly linked to the daughter's relationship with a man in marriage [Yalman 1967, Goody and Tambiah 1973].

Many alliances do not take place because the aforesaid sum was not provided at the right time or as per the promises and it is first decided upon before the marriage is fixed with the money changing hands in a ceremonial public manner [Vishvanathan 1982].

In lieu of the Anti Dowry laws that the government has passed the amount is not disclosed in today's times and the practices of virind and ora are loosing ground so many cases of fraudulent cheating have also been reported. Earlier the tithe (passaram) paid to the church from the streedhanam recorded the amount given and taken, now it is null and void and no one except for the giving and taking parties are aware of the amount that goes and comes.

Since the time a daughter is born, her parents start planning her streedhanam which becomes a financial constraint for the parents. A daughter is therefore seen as a liability and her conjugal rights and privileges are a chore for the capacity and even before her education and personality are charted out, this always remains a cause of concern for the parents. As an informant in Susan Vishvanathan's research paper on Streedhanam published in the Economic and Political Weekly on June 17, 1989 said" In troubled waters, the woman can hold her head up and say that I didn't enter this house empty handed, I have come with streedhanam.

In Syrian Christianity, streedhanam comes under the category of pre-mortem inheritance and is considered a fair fraction of her father's property (Avakasham). The economic and social status of both the families, educational qualifications of the bride and the groom, their jobs and even the colour of complexion of the woman are important factors that negotiate this deal. Over the years, the sum of money paid is determined by a prevalent rate with a possible bargaining over the sum which increases every year and with the age of the bride.
Typically in today's times it goes out in the form of gold and cash in this part of the world the demands go up as per the groom's parents purgative of what they think might be the most befitting bargain for their son. Amidst Syrian Christians even though the rates are high, it is a morally controlled system, with little or no cases of physical harassment in the name of the custom are reported. In lesser known cases, when the money is not paid in full, the daughter may be sent back to her parent's place and asked to remind her father and brothers of what needs to be done.If the relationship between the husband and the wife is weak, then this may lead to the escalation of the issue with emotional, mental and physical torture aimed as weapons for a defenseless daughter. To uphold the family name and individual's character she suffers like a sheep with muted mindless mollification to spare herself and her family of the societal stigmatization.

The system is a scar on the society's claims of promoting equality and equanimity when it comes to educating women and providing them with even opportunities in social, professional and personal life, for it starts from the day a hypergamous alliance is hunted for in terms of status and class and high streedhanam paid for the fulfillment of the paternal duties towards a daughter, in buying a way to a household along with conjugal rights.

What is the Church doing in abolishing this practice? Absolutely nothing.! I remember four years ago there was a youth conference and to my amazement this was one of the issues discussed there. And with much boned bravery I happened to question the priest as to why the practice existed even to this day, since I was interested in reminding him that we had reached the twenty first century and something should have been done by people assuming his kind of office to do away with the custom. He was apathetically trying to avoid the query and after much protested pestering he asked me to shut up and sit down. And they are the same people who wallow in the moral and social reverence they are doled out with, much to a degree they do not deserve.

In a sect and religion that doesn't get tired of talking about their royal lineage and spiritual sophistication, the existence of this practice shows how patriarchal pensiveness still rules the hearts and minds of the people for except for a few isolated cases like Mary Roy 1986, there have hardly been cases where the practice of streedhanam and the rights of the daughters over their deceased father's property was challenged.

What is more appalling is that most of the Catholic and protestant churches have done away with the practice of Streedhanam or any kind of endowment that resembled Dowry and has called for barring of its members who indulge in any such kind of illicit practices.

In a list of must haves and have not's for a bride to be, is this kind of a doing necessary in today's times for people who never get tired of hooting around the horn about their spiritual sentiments and moral minding?

Why hasn't the practice of giving Streedhanam declined with the change in inheritance laws and advent of Anti-Dowry laws? Is the custom of Streedhanam promoting gender equality in any way? No I suppose! Isn't it high time that the empowered and educated women should have the grit to stand in front of a man to question him as to what on earth gave him and his parents the rightful resolute to demand a price for belonging to a species that was carved out of the first father!


Marriage, Birth and Death: Property Rights and Domestic Relationships of the Orthodox/Jacobite Syrian Christians of Kerala
Susan Visvanathan
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 24, No. 24 (Jun. 17, 1989), pp. 1341-1346
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
Article Stable URL:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Another Year Passes By (2012)

"All the days ordained for me
were written in Your book
before one of them came to be."
(Psalm 139:16b, NIV)

Another year passes by and gave more enthusing experiences, good or bad they all gave me a lesson. Let that be brooding over acne that didn't leave me alone even on a single day (I am into healthier habits now!) to a weight gain that made me feel like a pebble bag (Even though others do not call it a winnings to wane over!) to poetry that went to places (Poetry journals and Tagore Birthday commemoration anthology) to a naive blog that is being recognized now (Ink Blots is being featured on Women's Web very often and they also gave me a feature on Reader's Corner, the first one!). Also friends came and went, and misunderstandings were mightier than my pen.
While the digressed days saw me explaining people as to why I wanted to stay single till I possibly could, for marrying someone to please the moral mentors of the society wouldn't fish happiness for me! Who, when and where? I really do not know? Till then hunting for single seater dining spaces in restaurants would be my most favoured activity.

Some lessons learned from last year:-
1)Acne is the baby of a mishappening lifestyle. If they come, we mustn't crib in vain and should try to make the switch. Make an exercise regime that will make you listen to it. As you grow older, your metabolism will mutate to not favour you.
2)Those who are your friends would understand you well. Those who wish to go because of mindless misjudgement aren't friends, they are misogynistic mentors of their mind who think they know anything and everything about life.
3) Opinions are like as*h***s, everyone has one! Why bother about advises not customized to suit your allegories and allusions?
4) Writing should not be your ticket to one moment of fame, don't let spotlights and features get into your head.
5) Take one day at a time. Life can't be planned as per your presumptions, let the Almighty plan each day of your life with surprises.

The year was eventful in more than one way, a few days do make it to my memory as illustrious and important. Thank God! You've always known what is the best for me!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Patriarchal Absurdity in the 21st century: St Stephen's reservation

Sixty five percent of the students in the prestigious St. Stephan's college are women, so to fix this skewed sex ratio, they come up with an atrociously absurd idea of reserving forty percent seats for men. Oh wow! And where does the proposal come from? From the Supreme Council!

And they say it was proposed while the college was made co-educational in 1975, that seventy five percent of the seats should be occupied by male students and the remaining by girl students for at that time the focus was to do away with the "Men's college" tag and later when the proposal to have equal number of seats for both boys and girls came it was a move to do away with the "male dominated institution" label. Since those times, girls have studied harder than boys and scored on the basis of merit getting into St. Stephen's and other colleges for their brain and not beauty (Some mindless opinions on a blog said that when the institution was made co-educational, it was seen as a move to add some glamour quotient to the college!) the sex ratio in the college distorted to see more women than men. It might have then become rueful for the patriarchal church management, the Supreme council in this case to see women abhorring the future of an educational institution they had made to educate men, oh yes Christian men for forty percent seats are reserved for Christians, it is aching for them to see that since they can't increase the competencies of men, this might come as a mollified move to improve the disparate sex ratio.