At the outset let me affirm that I am a Nair myself and I am eminently qualified to write on the topic. Categorisation of Nairs in the conventional four tier caste system of Hinduism has always been a problem.
Being erstwhile warriors, some would categorise them as Kshatriyas. But Nairs have never been rulers themselves and that would make them eligible only for the Sudra title, according to some others. Kshatriyas or Sudras, Nair community has always been at the vanguard of social change in Kerala (and India) from time immemorial. Any analysis of their contribution to progress of the land would sound boringly boastful and it has been attempted by many.
Here let us take another interesting trend that is shaping up within the community in recent times and see where it will lead us to. The issue concerns the dowry disease that has afflicted community youngsters. Many of the young married men are ‘dowrydasans’ and many more are waiting to jump into the bandwagon.
One of our many unwanted customs contracted from others is the dowry system. This social evil is so contagious that there is hardly any community in Kerala that is left uninfected. The patrilineal Christian community have a logical reason to have something like dowry system to send off a girl member with her assets from a family. But it should never have been a model for the matrilineal Nairs and for Muslims with well prescribed ‘mohr’ custom. Now that every one is in the same boat, Nairs are perhaps the most affected with both the dowry burden and the traditional matrilineal stronghold of girls over their ancestral properties.
Except for the looseness in marriage bonds, the matrilineal family lineage of Nairs had always remained an all time ideal social institution highlighting the importance of females in a human society. Instead of reforming the system, the community has abandoned the principle in theory but not from their minds and practice. The concept of ladies staying at home and husbands joining the wife’s family on marriage was logical for a warrior community. And it would have remained the best model in modern times too if the male brought along with him all his wealth. But not anymore when boys are bought into the girls’ family by paying dowry and all other facilities.
If Kerala Model for social development was a trendsetter in the past, the Gulf Model among NRKs (Non-Resident Keralites) is setting the trend within Kerala society nowadays. There is a good number of Malayalee Nairs in the Gulf and their contribution in all walks of life is second to none. As one of the so-called forward castes in the Kerala landscape, Nairs have been forced to seek their fortune in distant lands for a long time. The exodus has only accelerated after Indian Independence.
If Nairs dominated the Indian bandwagon to the Far East in earlier days, they are not far behind other communities in reaching the Gulf. As in the case of others, Nairs who are mostly lazy in their home turf are one of the most productive workers in the Gulf. Many of them have made money and in the process their culture and customs too have undergone changes. Gulf Nairs are setting the trend in the realm of Nair marriage also. Dowry system is rampant and the amount involved is going up by leaps and bounds. The more innovative among them are even offering Gulf jobs, car and accommodation in addition to huge money. The only work left for such ‘dowrydasan’ Nairs is procreation!!
What will be the end result of this undesirable tendency is of concern to all of us. NRKs’ are setting the trend everywhere and what happens among them is attempted within Kerala sooner or later. The rich among natives take the clue first and it is attempted by one and all then onwards. If this system of providing for everything becomes established within the community, the end results can be devastating. We will soon end up with a set of young Nairs who cannot survive in a competitive world. Becoming ‘dowrydasan’ will be the dream of youngsters in the community and once trapped their laziness will only increase. To be born into a so-called forward community is itself a curse in India now. One can imagine the trouble if all these ‘dowrydasans’ multiply and make up a community that is good only for procreation.