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:


Franklin Joseph said...

Great Article. I am a christian and yet I was not aware of this evil.

Aditya said...

Oh my god. This is pure evil.

Bhavana said...

Hey an academic article adapted for a blog readership!!! Great... In btw the last but one para left me confused. Maybe you want to reword that?


Bhavna, Which one.?