Absence of a dowry-system, divorce by mutual consent, and widow-re-marriage: On the high status of women in Badaga communities (Nilgiri) – Tamil Nadu

The Badagas are a unique community living mainly in the Nilgiris District in Tamil nadu in South India. They are also the single largest community of the Nilgiris. Though classified backward, a significant factor is the high status of their women says Indu K Malla, a Badaga writer of distinction, in her article ” The myth of Badaga origin & migration […]

Since the Badagas have no script, their history has been documented in other languages (mostly English) by non-Badaga historians and anthropologists (mostly westerners). Since the Nilgiris formed part of the Mysore state domains till 1799, the question of the migrations of the Badagas to the Nilgiris, does not arise. […]

Badaga Henno, Sathiyada MannoThe title is only a rough translation of Badaga woman-hood, for there is no exact English translation for Sathiya – the nearest words are blessed or divine. (‘Mannu’ means soil). The Badaga woman is the epitome of ‘Shakthi’, and many of their festivals, legends, ballads and folk – tales are centred around women. In fact, the chief festival of the Badagas, Hethai Habba, is centred around ‘Hethai’, a woman imbued with divine powers, and who was subsequently deified. It is significant that though the Badagas are a patriarchal society, their women are held in high esteem. The high status of Badaga women perhaps derives from three main factors – the absence of a dowry – system, divorce by mutual consent, and widow-re-marriage. There is no stigma attached to widows; in fact they are part of the mainstream community, and in the fore – front of auspicious functions like engagement and wedding coremonies. Also, there is the practice of ‘hengava nadathodu” – a tradition of giving a daughter / sister material, emotional and moral support throughout her life.Traditional Badaga women are very hardworking, and are the mainstay of the family and the community. They till the soil, harvest the produce, collect fire – wood and water, and tend the cows, in addition to looking after their families. Since the Badagas have been mainly agriculturists, the Badaga women’s ethos is closely connected to the soil. In fact, even the proverbs of the Badagas evoke this ethos – for e.g : “Hennogiri, mannogiri” (A daughter’s / sister’s curse will turn the soil barren). […]

Source: http://badaga.in/
Address : http://badaga.in/
Date Visited: Sun Jan 25 2015 20:33:53 GMT+0100 (CET)

Shantha Thiagarajan, TNN | Nov 13, 2014

UDHAGAMANDALAM: They’ve been fighting to regain their lost status as tribals from the 1970s, and on Tuesday the Badagas, an indigenous community in the Nilgiris, filed a petition in the Madras High court to demand that they be included in the list of scheduled tribes. […]

The Badagas are classified as Backward Class in Tamil Nadu through constitutional orders. The 1901 census classified them as tribals and the 1911 census denoted Badagas as Hindu animist tribals having a tribal mother tongue. In 1931, they were classified as important primitive tribals of southern India. […]

Source: Badagas take fight for scheduled tribe status to Madras high court – The Times of India
Address : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/Badagas-take-fight-for-scheduled-tribe-status-to-Madras-high-court/articleshow/45128857.cms
Date Visited: Sun Jan 25 2015 20:56:00 GMT+0100 (CET)

Shantha Thiagarajan | May 16, 2012

UDHAGAMANDALAM: To mark the 25th ‘Badaga Day’, the community members launched on Tuesday the ‘Academy for Badaga Culture‘ (ABC), a trust which will focus on many things including setting up of a museum for the community’s archives.

The Badagas, a predominant community in the Nilgiris, have been celebrating May 15 as ‘Badaga Day’ since 1989. On May 15, 1989, the Badagas gathered in large numbers and took out a rally in Ooty town to show their solidarity. Founder of the academy Manjai V Mohan said, “The academy will collect data about the community and its important personalities. Also, a list of firsts in the community will be compiled for future records.” […]

Source: “Badagas to dig into their past” by Shantha Thiagarajan, The Times of India, , 16 May 2012
Address : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/Badagas-to-dig-into-their-past/articleshow/13159221.cms
Date Visited: 17 April 2022

Learn more about the Badaga community >>

Gender-based violence against women is at an all-time high in Tamil Nadu. For a State that is counted as progressive otherwise, the latest National Family Health Survey findings are a sobering call to action against spousal violence primarily spurred by alcoholism. Even as the State’s coffers are regularly filled by selling alcohol, it is important for the government to devise strategies to protect the women of this State from violence. […]

While a contradiction of such a degree between educational and financial indicators and the indicators on gender-based violence is almost unique in Tamil Nadu, activists and experts say it need not come as a surprise.

Swarna Rajagopalan, founder, Prajnya, says the numbers are not surprising as it is only a myth that better education, economic progress or an ideology that espouses something different would automatically yield a gender-equitable culture. […]

Poet and writer Meena Kandasamy says the problem lies in society’s approach towards violence, which is seen as a corrective disciplinary force. “Parents think it is completely okay to whack a child. Since childhood, violence within the family is seen as a virtuous force because the ‘intent is good’,” she says, adding that within a patriarchal society, women are infantilised and husbands are later given the ‘obligatory’ role of a disciplinarian. […]

S. Anandhi, professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, says spousal violence is very much related to compulsory marriages. She points out that though the percentage of women accessing higher education in Tamil Nadu is high, a majority of them drop out of the job market after that. She says higher education in a way becomes a step, not towards jobs, but towards marriage, in which women have a limited choice. […]

Professor Anandhi says the purpose of educating women often turns out to be to prepare them for the economic mobility of families and not their own. The purpose itself is patriarchal. She adds that to address genderbased violence, society has to address the crisis of masculinity in the context of neo-liberal economic policies and the lack of quality jobs, particularly for men.

Prasanna Gettu, managing trustee and co-founder, International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), says that contrary to assumption in a highly patriarchal society, improvement in education and economic independence may in fact increase domestic violence. […]

Source: “No safe haven for women at home” by by Pon Vas­anth B.A (*Name changed to pro­tect iden­tity) (With in­puts from Vig­nesh Rad­hakr­ish­nan and Re­becca Rose Vargh­ese), The Hindu 17 April 2022
URL: www.thehindu.com
Date Visited: 17 April 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Shanthi Kunjan with mother © Priti David in 
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“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

~ ~ ~

“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

~ ~ ~

Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

~ ~ ~

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

~ ~ ~

“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

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