Irula - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Monogamous marriage is the rule, but a few polygamous marriages occur. Polyandry is extremely rare. Soro-rate and levirate remarriages are not the norm. By choice and consent, however, Irula men may occasionally marry sisters of their deceased wives. The old traditional marriage, started by parents negotiating and the young man then going to the young woman's village with a load of firewood to live with her on a trial basis for a few days, has almost disappeared. Nowadays the young man's parents go to the prospective bride's house, after they are certain that she is in a marriageable clan. The bride-price, now usually the standardized amount of Rs 101 and 50 paisa, is paid in the presence of elders from both sides and the facilitator ( jatthi ). Then the date for the marriage is jointly agreed to. The groom's sister will serve as the bridesmaid, and the bride's brother will serve as the best man. The bride is brought by her relatives and the groom's party to the groom's house on the wedding day. In the house or within a temporary shelter ( pandal ) erected near the house, the groom in the most pertinent act of the marriage ceremony and in conformity with the widespread practice in southern India, ties a necklace ( tali, provided by his maternal uncle) around the bride's neck. A feast is then provided by the groom's people. Millet would in past times have been served, but it is now fashionable to serve rice with curry. The groom afterward bows to the feet of guests to receive their blessing and is followed in this act by his wife. Along with their blessing, the guests give money (typically Rs 1, 2, or 5) to the couple. All later go to the bride's house, and there is then another feast (again, with rice and curry), which runs into the night. All feasting is accompanied by the dancing of males and females (usually in separate groups but in one circle). The consumption of intoxicating beverages is also liable to take place. The establishment of a separate patrilocal household after marriage is the norm. Conforming with the widespread practice in southern India, the wife usually returns to her paternal home in her seventh month of pregnancy and remains there until after her infant is delivered. While a woman's inability to bear a child is not considered grounds for divorce, an Irula man may marry another woman if his first wife cannot conceive. He then is married to both women. The usual grounds for divorce are unfaithfulness or a husband's lack of provision for his wife. When a marriage is troubled, a member of the Samban patrician will try to keep it intact, or a member of the Koduvan patrician will help if a member of the Samban clan is involved. If three attempts at reconciliation do not work, a divorce is granted. The village headman and a group of males forming a council ( panchayat ) simply issue their consent for divorce. The bride-price and any gift jewelry must be returned to the husband's family. Then the husband's mother or husband's brother's wife smears some castor oil backward from the forehead of the wife along the part of her hair. After the tali is removed from her and returned to the husband, they are divorced. The children from the marriage will remain with the father.

Domestic Unit. The typical family whose members are served food from the same hearth averages four to five people, but it may reach a size of seven to nine people. Because the institution of the extended family still remains vital, those relatives beyond the nuclear family may assume residence, especially if they are left destitute in infancy or old age. If the wife dies, it is the responsibility of the husband to care for the children. He may remarry. While the constitution of India now enables a woman to remarry if her husband dies, an Irula widow seldom will. The brothers of a deceased husband are expected to care for the widow. The brothers of the widow may also care for her, if those of her deceased husband give their consent.

Inheritance. It is unfortunate that Irula tribal pattas are not more restricted by the government. Quite apart from their being taken over by unscrupulous outsiders, they also are divided equally among the sons upon the father's death. Purchased land units are similarly divided among the male descendants.

Socialization. Much of the infant and child rearing is done by adult females, including those among the elderly extended family members who might be present. Older siblings of both sexes play an important role in the care of their younger brothers and sisters. Government has now provided day and residential schools for the formal training of Irula children, and the related socialization process provides the main means for introducing the Irula into broader civilization. Unfortunately, most Irula have thus far abandoned the formal educational institutions in the lower stages.

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