Though the matriarchal home is now nearly extinct, replaced by the fiercely nuclear family, the elevation of womanhood, its most unique feature, remains. Keralites, men and women, are proud of this.
Nuclear Family wins out
Around the turn of the century, the nuclear family emerged, hailed as the "modern way." Matriarchy was deemed "backward," "medieval." Most matriarchal homes started breaking up, losing lands and loyalty. Suddenly, Kerala saw a wave of homeless people, a bewildering phenomenon unknown under the a-home-for-everyone joint-family system.
Matriarchal system collapsed for a mix of reasons. The period of wars was over [so husbands were not needed to go off and leave their wives]. Land ceiling laws reduced the extent of land under the tarawad. Men became more educated and left the household to take up jobs outside Kerala. They took their families with them. This created differences between those who went away and those who remained at home. The unitary family appeared more suited to modern conditions than the big tarawads. Dwindling resources created dissensions among the male members, who started questioning the authority of the karanavan. Many asked for individual partitions. It was difficult to manage the huge household without proper income. The marumakkathayum households gradually dwindled in size and wealth. Nair families were becoming unitary, with the husband as the dominant factor and the wife and children under his supposed protection.
Though the matriarchal home is now nearly extinct, replaced by the fiercely nuclear family, the elevation of womanhood, its most unique feature, remains. Keralites, men and women, are proud of this. To this day, it amazes visitors from other states how high Kerala women hold their heads in the home and workplace and that they travel virtually anywhere unafraid of harassment.
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Last Updated: December 11, 1998