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Marriage, education, and employment among Tamil Brahman women in South India, 1891–2010

Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Ds Asia
  • Gn Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Education


A hundred years ago, pre-puberty marriage for girls was the norm among South Indian Tamil Brahmans, and Brahman girls received little or no education. By the 1940s, child marriage had largely ended and girls’ education was improving gradually. Today, girls’ educational standards more or less match that of boys’, and many Brahman women are also employed outside the home. In relation to marriage and education in particular, the position of women has greatly improved, which is regarded by Tamil Brahmans themselves as a sign of their modern, educated, professional, middle-class status, whereas extreme gender inequality formerly indicated their traditional, high-caste status. This paper examines how female marriage, education, and employment are interrelated and how they have changed among Tamil Brahmans, particularly in the Eighteen-Village Vattima subcaste, which continued child marriage until the 1970s. Among Tamil Brahmans, as both women and men recognize, a real reduction in gender inequality has occurred. Moreover, Brahman men have more readily ceded status to Brahman women than Brahmans together have to non-Brahmans, so that there is a striking contrast today between persisting ideas of caste superiority and diminishing gender inequality.

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