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Mother is Right

The mother is always right, right? While the jokes on the internet talk about the strong points of women as mothers, unfortunately the patriarchy system is so ingrained in the psyche that people assume it fair to think that a baby has to naturally follow the name of the father and his lineage.


The burden of pregnancy and motherhood notwithstanding; it is a shameful pressure on the woman to nurture and yet not be given the rightful decision to name the baby after them. However, not the whole of India is such. Matriarchal societies still persist despite the desperation to produce heir and name them after the men. Malabar coast region follows the matrilineal functioning and so do Khasi and Garo people in Meghalaya and parts of North-East.


How come we are having a mix of such systems in different parts of India? While the urban women especially in the metros are turning to keeping their mother’s name or ensuring that their children follow their name – such cases are too far and very rare. The system itself is too complex, asking for the father’s name in the birth certificate to school admission forms to various identity papers that one has to fill up. 


In the light of such barriers for single mothers or mothers who don’t want to affix father’s or mother’s name or surname but to let the child choose when they attain legal age is again a great task indeed. While the laws related to ancestral property, will, property share, heir rights etc are changing; it isn’t fast enough or all encompassing yet. 


Mother-right in India by Baron Omar Rolf Ehrenfels. (Osmania University Series.) (London: Oxford University Press, 1941.) is a great book to delve into the aspects of mother’s rights in the landscape of complex problems that render a mother to be prone to the diktats of the system. Given the indian context this is an ideal way to get acquainted to the rights that mothers have in India and how the cultural and  social landscape have determined the shaping up of mother’s rights in India.


Abstract from the book “Mother-Right in India”

BARON EHRENFELS has undertaken an ambitious scheme in his analysis of mother-right in India, and that is no less than to investigate. “the entire complex of problems grouped round the questions of the matriarchal system in India ”. The results at which he arrives are far-reaching. He concludes that in the south-west, if not in the main peninsula, of India there have been four strata of matrilineal peoples, while a fifth is to be found in the north-east

. A map indicates the distribution all over India of more or less isolated features of these matrilineal cultures, which survive as complete and functioning matrilineal societies only on the Malabar coast in the south-west, and in the Khasi and Garo Hills in the north-east. To the influence of these matrilineal cultures of the past, of which traces only now survive in the greater part of India, Baron Ehrenfels attributes a very large number of past and present features of Indian society.

Thus the efflorescence of Buddhist culture in the fifth, fourth and third centuries B.C., the practice of vegetarianism, the widespread, if socially despised institution of the matrilocal marriage in which the son-in-law goes to live as a ghar-jamai in the house of his sonless father-in-law, and many familiar features of Rajput society past and present,

such as the practice of johar, that is, the immolation of themselves by the women en masse when their men were defeated in warfare, and the continuing use of cattle in marriage processions, are all put down to the influence of the fourth matrilineal culture, which is held to have flourished at Mohenjodaro, while

megalithic cultures, headhunting, and the practice of sacrifice by decapitation, for example, are ascribed to an earlier and more primitive stratum of matriliny. Other institutions again, child-marriage, hypergamy, bride-prices, are directly ascribed to the clash of immigrant patrilineal with pre-established matrilineal cultures, while totemism is regarded as the pure product of a patrilineal age.

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