Tamil of Sri Lanka - Maniage and Family



Marriage. Marriages among the "respectable" castes are arranged by parents and are accompanied by a large dowry—which, again in sharp contrast to the mainland Tamil pattern, includes lands and a house as well as movables and cash. Boys are expected to delay marriage so that they can help their Parents accumulate enough wealth to marry off their sisters. A girl is technically eligible to marry after puberty but marriages are increasingly delayed, often into a woman's mid-to late twenties, owing to the difficulties involved in assembling the dowry and finding a suitable groom. The ideal groom is an educated, English-speaking, and government-employed man from a good, respectable family of the same microcaste; again ideally, he is terminologically a cross-cousin of the bride, but this is by no means necessary. The traditional Hindu wedding is a lavish affair that proclaims the family's status. For most couples the marriage is strictly an unromantic relationship, though it may grow into love later; a "good wife" submits to her husband's authority and serves him humbly and obediently. If a boy's parents discover that he has fallen in love, they take offense at this erosion of their authority and try to break up the relationship; if a girl's parents discover that she has fallen in love, they express their disdain for her and take advantage of the situation by trying to strike a marriage deal that involves little or no dowry. More rarely, broad-minded parents may try to arrange what appears to be a traditional marriage even if the pair are in love. Residence after marriage is neolocal, the determining factor being the availability of lands and a house. "Love marriages" are increasingly Common. Poorer and low-caste families can afford neither the dowry nor the ceremony, so their marriages are far more casual. Although wife abuse is thought to be common, it is publicly discouraged and, in strong contrast to India, women have a moderate degree of economic recourse in that they retain property rights under traditional Tamil law (which is up-held in the courts). Divorce is exceptionally uncommon and quite difficult legally, but among the poor and lower castes desertion and new, casual relationships are common.

Domestic Unit. The average household is five or six Persons; a married couple may be joined by elderly parents after these parents relinquish their lands and homes to other Children in a form of premortem inheritance.

Inheritance. In contrast to the mainland Tamil pattern, property is divided equally among all children—if any property is left after paying dowry at the going rates.

Socialization. Small children are treasured by most adults, who play with them, tease them, and create homes that are structured around their needs. A first rice-feeding ceremony takes place at approximately 6 months. Toilet training is relaxed and untraumatic. But there is a pronounced change at approximately age 5, when the parents begin the task of bending the child to their will. At this age there begins an authoritarian relationship in which the parents assume the right to determine the child's school interests, prospective career, friends, attitudes, and spouse. Tradition-minded families may force girls to leave school at puberty, following which there was formerly a ceremony (now done privately or not at all) that declared the girl to be technically eligible for marriage; she dons a sari and is no longer free to go about unchaperoned. Both the family and school declare to children, in effect, "Do what we tell you to do and we will take care of you in life." However, families and schools are increasingly unable to deliver on this promise. In the 1970s, Tamil youths found themselves receiving authoritarian pressure from their Families to conform but faced bleak prospects; this double bind apparently contributed to a tripling of suicide rates, giving the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka one of the highest recorded suicide rates in the world. The rise of youthful Tamil militant groups is not only a political phenomenon but also a generational Revolt; Tamil youths are rejecting not only Sinhalese rule but also the moderate politics and social conservatism of their parents.


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