Syrian Christian of Kerala - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Kerala society like the rest of India is divided into castes. Syrian Christians have enjoyed centuries of tolerance from the majority Hindu community by respecting the endogamous tradition of Hindu castes. They have not even tried to increase their numbers by proselytization. They rank themselves close to the Nayars in the caste hierarchy. It seems that most of the early Christians were converted from upper castes and even today they very rarely intermarry with Christians converted by European missionaries whom they consider inferior in social rank. Roman Catholics and non-Catholics rarely intermarry even if they are Syrian Christians. Non-Catholic Christians never use European names. Their names are Biblical names, as well as some Armenian and Greek names that are prevalent in the Middle East, making them distinctive. Examples of Armenian and Greek names are Kurian, Cherian, Alexander, Stephanos, and Markose.

Political Organization. India has a democratic federal constitution. Kerala was formed in 1956 from the two Kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin ruled by maharajas and the district of Malabar in the north. Kerala is divided into districts administered by a collector who, though appointed by the state government, is a federal civil-service official. At the district level there are taluks, which are smaller administrative units under a tahsildar. Towns with both elected and appointed officials fall within the taluks. At the rural level the administrative unit is the panchayat with an elected council and appointed officials. The panchayat is responsible for revenue collection, supervision of the elementary school, medical care and public health, and the development of agriculture, animal husbandry, and cottage industries.

Social Control. Traditional social controls such as community pressure to conform to accepted values are still important. However, informal social control mechanisms are being increasingly replaced by the codified law of the state. Elders are no longer afforded the same level of respect as in the less urbanized times fifty years back. Today there is increasing reliance on the state police and the judiciary to resolve disputes, although the level of individual violence is lower than other states in India partly due to modern education and a sense of tolerance. However, people of Kerala spend an inordinate amount of time and money on long court cases.

Conflict. Kerala has been fortunate to have had a long period of relative peace. The last major war there was the invasion of Tipu Sultan of Mysore at the end of the eighteenth century, which only affected the northern areas of the state. This long history of relative tranquillity also changed the attitude of the people, although the Indian army is an important source of employment today.

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