When posting of a woman in govt service made news...1932

Published: TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014
When posting of a woman in govt service made news...
There was a time, not that long ago, when appointment of a woman as a clerk at a government office grabbed the headline of the day. The rare move made it a special story as hardly any woman candidate was given posting at the Secretariat. The story had appeared in 'Deepam', a daily published from Ernakulam during 1932, as major happening in Ananthapuri, which is known as Thiruvananthapuram at present.

The story talked about a woman called G R Thankamma (BA) who was appointed as a clerk at the secretariat and hailed from Manakkad. In those days, not just the instances of women getting jobs but passing graduation courses created news.

In the past, it was near impossible for women to land a job in government services. Prior to the establishment of the vast kingdom of Travancore by Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, it consisted of many other smaller kingdoms like Attingal Perakathavazhi (now Nedumangad), Elayidath Swaroopam (Kottarakara), Deshinganad (Kollam), etc.

History has it that Attingal was well known for many strong and bold female rulers such as Umayamma Rani. Attingal Rani was so powerful that she granted permission to the English East India Company to build a fort at Anchuthengu. After taking over Kochi from the Portuguese, the Dutch had signed agreements with various queens who used to rule the lands of Western Kerala. It has been recorded in history that the Dutch captain Neuhoff had met the queens of Attingal and Deshinganad and entered into agreements with them.

Neuhoff, in his memoirs, had described those queens as strong and fierce, but the truth remains that those who ran the royal services under their rule, were men.

If we are to examine our history dating back to centuries, we can see that the high profile jobs offered to women was the post of cleaners and sweepers in temples. But it was a profession the society had respected and given its own dignity.

The Mathilakam records say in the Malayalam era 644 (1469 A.D), a guard was punished after he was found guilty of misbehaving with one of the temple sweepers employed at Marthanda Madom, close to Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. It was also recorded that the guard was immediately dismissed and all his possessions sold at an auction.

The arrival of Europeans saw the social structure of Kerala undergo sea changes. The efforts of the various Christian missionaries and implementation of English education and institutions had all given momentum to the undergoing cultural changes. During the reign of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, a foreigner by name Robert had established a government English medium school, where the Ayurveda College is situated now. Eventually, the school developed into a high school and college and went on to become the present 'Maharajas College'.

A woman had enrolled herself in college, for the first time and history remembers her as Doctor Mary Punnen Lukose +

Image result for Doctor Mary Punnen Lukose
The Doctors behind the Poonen Road, Secretariate, Trivandrum ...

Mary Poonen Lukose was born on 2nd August 1886 as his daughter.She was
the first and only female student of Maharaja's (Now University ) College.
 Map of Punnen Rd, Statue, Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695001
who was in fact, the first 'female surgeon general', not only in India, but also in the world. This was a title, which existed in the British Empire back then, but there was no one even in the British Empire who had managed to be bestowed with this title. Even in England education for women was not given due importance and this made the achievement of Mary Punnen Lukose a peculiar one.

The statue of Annie Mascarene at Vazhuthacaud.
The reformatory movement that began as a wave in Bengal and reached all the way to Madras in the 19th century, changed the face of Kerala altogether. The Independence Movement, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and also the functioning of various organizations to bring about social reforms in due course became the channels for women empowerment as well. Accordingly, women began to be involved themselves in fields of education, social service and also doing jobs in large numbers. Prior to this, more number of women came forward to do jobs in hospitals and also as teachers in schools.

When Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bai (1924-1931) was in power, a woman was nominated to the Travancore Legislative Council. It was none other than Doctor Mary Punnen Lukose. Despite these developments, a large number of educated men opposed the trend of women doing jobs and their involvement in public affairs.

Equality seemed to be a far-fetched notion. A blatant example is the anti-woman mentality reflected in the committee constituted to form the Travancore Public Service Commission.

One member even wrote a note that the women's involvement in government services would affect quality of work and they have to be granted maternity leave and such.

Similarly, on November 15, 1932, a controversial debate took place at the Law College (the building having tile roofing inside the AG's office now). The debate conducted by the Law College Association on the topic 'The Emergence of Women, Threat to Progress' saw heated exchanges. A section of the participants were of the opinion that the role of women was to take care of children and raise their family, while another section believed that the virtues of women would be lost, if they are associated with the judiciary and allied sectors.

Annie Mascarene was one of those who raised her voice against this. Nobody had assumed then that one day Anna Chandy, who studied in Thiruvananthapuram, would become the first woman judge of our country or Annie Mascarene would become the woman member from South India to sign the Draft Constitution.

- Malayinkeezh Gopalakrishnan
(Translated By Arjun Subhash)

Her-Self: Gender and Early Writings of Malayalee Women

Front Cover
Popular Prakashan, 2005 - Gender identity in literature - 181 pages
This collection reveals the vigorous debate over modern gender relations that was taking place in this period. The authors hailed mostly from those groups which had obtained access to modern education and ways of life like the Nairs, Syrian Christians and Ezhavas. There are other voices too, a few women from the Nambutiri Brahmin caste and two Muslim women. Women reflected on what was Womanly on education, duties, vocation and civil roles, first influenced by reformism and later by nationalist and communist ideas. The Editor also points to the need to define what is non-Womanly.