Today, women in our society are holding charge more than ever before. Whether putting up with leadership positions, requiring equality, or creating history, women have forged modern routes across the world. However, throughout history and across civilizations, women have confronted countless challenges and harms, and they have also resisted them with great efforts, in their own way. One such woman, living in extremely harsh conditions, rewrote the principles of society with her unusual way to resist against the mistreatment of that era. And even today, her name in that region sets the nerves provoked, for it has all the elements needed, inequality, nastiness, discrimination, forbidden sex, emotions, anger, guilt and the list go on. But first, it is relatively essential to know the customs and various patterns of that period. In Kerala in the early 1900s, the Nambudiri Brahmins were a Malayali Brahmin caste. The word Nambudiri can be pronounced as Namboodiri, Namboothiri and Namputir. In their hierarchy, they were at the highest with a lot of social and financial fortune, and they even carried power over the emperor of Kochi.

While the men of the Nambudiri society were exceedingly stable in their lives due to all the possessions of lands and higher education, the women had no basic rights or privilege and struggled for equality and justice. The women were labelled as ‘Antharjanams’, which meant indoor persons. The upper cast and rich women were required to be pure and tamed, but they were not allowed to dress up, and they were not allowed to wear gold. The women could not leave their home without their husband, or a maid, and they even had to cover themselves in a blanket and an umbrella. However, the women who belonged to the lower-casts were living in extra terrible situations. They were not considered ‘pure enough’ to even put restrictions on, but it wasn't favourable for them. The lower-caste women were exploited and oppressed to fulfil the sexual desires of the brahmin men and often forced into jobs like prostitution.

And the woman who at some amount, disputed all the injustice and viciousness in the society was Thathri Kutty, who is also referred to as Kuriyedath Thathri, Dhatri or Savitri, was born in Ezhumangadu village into the Kalpakasseri Illam, which was a prominent Nambudiri society. It is believed that she was destined to bring calamity and destroy her family's honor. And she did that, but in an exceptionally brave manner, that was huge in the liberty of numerous Malayali women in the region. Since childhood, Thathri was very interested in literature and performing arts, but education stood prohibited for women. She was exceptionally creative, and often, tactical and mischievous. But at the age of 11, she was married to 60-year-old Chemamanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Nambudiri. The man had multiple wives and he also used to hire prostitutes regularly. And shortly, Thathri refused to have any relationship with Raman.

There is no exact evidence behind their differences, but the most popular one described that he abandoned her after she protested against him bringing other women into their home. When Raman left her, Thathri took up sex-work, and the exact reason behind her choice is largely unknown. Thathri was exceptionally beautiful and attractive, and many men flocked around her. These men came from distinct castes and some were extremely powerful and influential. No man knew that Thathri was an antharjanam. The women in Nambudiri society were not allowed to be seen by any man other than the father before marriage, and husband after marriage, so hiding her identity was not so difficult for Thathri. She arranged all her visits through her ‘Thozhi’, a personal servant, who would communicate with the men and set up the visits on her behalf.

One fine day, a wealthy and aged man met her, and after a very satisfactory session, he finally got a chance to see her face and he was stunned when he realized that this was none other than his young wife. The man moved and put forward a trial against her. Soon Thathri was secluded according to the norms and a Smarthavicharam trial was launched. Smarthavicharam means the inquiry into the conduct. It was the trial of Nambudiri women and men adulterers who were accused of illegal sexual relations. According to their law, if the accused woman was found guilty, then she and the men found involved with her, known as ‘Jaran’, were excommunicated from the caste and banished.


Painting of a Smarthavicharam trial

There was a huge public interest in Thathri’s case because she was very clever and a popular person with much ammunition. The King of Kochi immediately sanctioned the case, but Thathri knew that this case can take up hours or even days depending on the arguments of it. She similarly knew that, as an antharjanam, she may also subject to physical torture to make her confess. In that period, a popular method was to pack the woman in a mat, like a dead body, and roll it from the housetop. At other times, rats, snakes and other poisonous creatures were driven into the cell of the accused. After numerous months, the entire trial was on the verge of conclusion. And the historic verdict was declared on the night of 13 July 1905, charging all the accused and of course Thathri.

It was a sensational trial due to numerous reasons. The huge number of people involved with Thathri was very high, and she took 64 exact names in the trial. She disclosed the names of the people, with a detailed description of all the events, with supreme confidence. She also remembered the private marks on the body of her customers and identification of people with groups, thus there was no chance that anyone could deny the counts. These men were respectable high-class Nambudiri from noble families. And she included 30 Nambudiris, 10 Iyers, 13 Ambalavaasis and 11 Nairs. It is believed that the King of Kochi halted the trial since he knew that his name would be next on Thathri's list.

As punishment, Thathri was sent to Chalakudy and she lived as an intern in a riverside home, with packed security. Two victims who were Ambalavaasis died and hence not moved against. Other victims left their houses with humiliation and downfall, some surviving on bare subsistence income and some begging. The whole toxic social system of Nambudiris eventually started collapsing. After Thathri's historic trial, numerous people came forward to question caste esteems that authorized what was supposed moral and what was not. Thathri's case was one of the final few cases of Smarthvicharam, and this practice eventually died.

Several relevant records kept in the Central Archives in Ernakulam comprise all the names accused in this trial, documented and verified by Smaarthan Pattachomayarath Jathavedan Nambudiri dated Mithunam 32, 1080 MC, which signifies mid-July, 1905. Certainly, there is a possibility that Thathri was a victim of her situations, who later turned them into retaliation against the society, on an evading direction for all the wrongs done to her in the past. It is not mandatory that she always thought to bring this revolution, but it was her situations that made her strong enough to rebel against the wrong. Otherwise, she would not have had the intention to confront the entire society and the people who carried high social status in that period. However, resistant and fierce Thathri made an eternal impact on the exceedingly patriarchal and discriminating society for her justice. Gradually, the women in the community earned a decisive foothold, and they got around and accomplished the things they always wished for. Thathri somehow knocked over the stereotypes in lately patriarchal and self-proclaimed society with her unconventional choices in life.


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