Anna Lindberg , Swedish historian, first visited Kerala in the 1990s for a study, and got to know the State's social issues, including the dowry system. Many visits later, she tells Sangeetha Unnithan that nothing much has changed here.

Around a couple of decades ago when she first came down to Kerala, fascinated by the Kerala model of development, the image of Kerala women Anna Lindberg had was that of an enlightened and empowered lot.

But ask the Swedish historian about her vision of Kerala women today and she will give you a more demystified and unabashedly honest reply.

“I know this society too well now. I know highly educated, empowered women from Kerala and I also know women who have been harassed and oppressed. To generalise them will be difficult,” she told The Hindu on Thursday on the sidelines of a seminar organised in connection with International Women's Day. The seminar was organised by Centre for Women's Studies, Women's Club, Sexual Harassment Prevention Cell, and Women's Forum of Kerala University.

About cashew workers

Ms. Lindberg, director of Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) at Lund University, is in fact very well acquainted with the Kerala way of life. After having spent years in the State, studying class, caste and gender issues among its cashew workers, Ms. Lindberg knows that Kerala, like the rest of India, is a society of paradoxes.

Her study on cashew workers in Kollam, which started soon after she reached here in the 1990s, exposed Ms. Lindberg to the struggles of women workers, mostly from backward castes.

The study titled “Experience and Identity: A Historical Account of Class, Caste, and Gender among the Cashew Workers of Kerala, 1930-2000” was done under the auspices of Centre for Development Studies.

“These women, despite being the breadwinners of the family, faced discrimination at the workplace and were denied equal wages for a long time. Through them, I came to know about the dowry system in Kerala and the immense pressure it puts on people, especially those from economically and socially backward families,” Ms. Lindberg said.

Study on dowry

Soon Ms. Lindberg was drawn to another study on the dowry system in Kerala as part of which she chronicled 187 marriages held between 1935 and 1999. She also researched on the prevalence of dowry system among various communities in erstwhile Travancore.

“I have been visiting Kerala regularly since the 1990s and I find that in modern Kerala also dowry is a big reality. The issue has so many facets to it, including economic, social, and cultural ramifications,” she said.

Ms. Lindberg said that although most of Europe, including her country, had done away with dowry system a long time ago, women still faced many other common issues, globally.

Violence against women

“Violence and harassment are the main issues that women all over the world face today. Although in the Scandinavian countries, which have a high human development index, the number of such cases is comparatively less, the issue is still there. The worrying fact is the violence against women is increasing every year,” she said.

Ms. Lindberg added that women's issues could be addressed only through better gender sensitisation and by bringing about cultural and attitudinal changes among societies.

‘I have been visiting Kerala regularly since the 1990s and I find that in modern Kerala too dowry is a big reality.'