Tribal, not primitive: Where it’s easy for women to step up

Narikurava families testify to the findings of the latest National Sample Survey Organization survey that shows that unemployment rates are among the lowest in tribal women.

Kanchana says she has completed all her duties, and that she has gotten both her sons married. But the weight of debt hangs heavy over her head. “In our narikurava community, dowry is not given by girls. It is the boy's family that should give money. That's how I ended up with a debt of ₹4 lakh,” she says.

At 45, she runs a household of five members, which includes her husband and her three grandchildren. “Their parents are in Hyderabad. They went there two months ago for business,” she says. Business involves selling ornaments like bead chains, wigs, mirrors, combs, knives and locks.

Kanchana lives in the narikurava colony in Poonamalee of Thiruvalluvar district of Tamil Nadu where some 50 families live. Narikuravas are a tribe that trace their roots to Maharashtra. While their cousins in other states are considered Scheduled Tribe in Tamil Nadu many have been classified most backward while a few have obtained ST certificates. Whatever be the classification, their social lives are far different from rest of society. Women lead the households and men often cook and clean. Sometimes they go out and work, too. Many narikurava women can be classified as self-employed — as street vendors.

Narikurava families testify to the findings of the latest National Sample Survey Organization survey that shows that unemployment rates are among the lowest in tribal women. Speaking to The Federal, G Srinivasa Varma, former professor of Linguistics, Annamalai University said that the narikkurava community as a whole, is still a patriarchal society as like other tribal communities. "But that is gradually changing now, since many of the women from the narikkurava community are getting education and are quite aware. Since, most of the Narikkurava men are addicted to alcohol, women take the lead in their households," he says.

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