Just because it’s tradition, doesn’t mean you have to follow it.

Today’s story in the Times about this supposed ‘conspiracy of silence’ about the apparently significant number of British Pakistani men in gangs grooming and sexually exploiting young, white girls does raise a question about Tamil tradition.

When a Tamil girl reaches puberty (i.e. has her first period), a ceremony is performed to mark the ‘attainment of age’. This generally happens between the ages of 11-14, unless the girl is a late developer.  I always assumed that this is like Bar mitzah in the Jewish culture, designed to show that the girl is no longer is a child and is now a young woman.

But I have just learned today that the historical, traditional reason for this ceremony was to show the community that the girl had reached marriageable age. Of course, this would have made sense historically because Tamil girls usually married (or were married off) young and puberty didn’t really happen to the age of 16 or 17. But that was back in the day. In the UK, where one cannot get married until the age of 16 and first periods usually happen around the age 12, I would question whether this attainment ceremony is still rational. Why not wait until the girl reaches the age of 16 when she can marry legally or until she is in her twenties or thirties, once she has gone to university and established a career? The other alternative, which has a basis in tradition, is to carry out the ceremony on the wedding day.

Finally, the perpetuation of this tradition actually is misogynist, because there is no equivalent ceremony for when boys reach puberty, which I presume would be when they are able to ejaculate for the first time. Do boys not become young men? On the other hand, ejaculation is pretty much within a buy’s or man’s will to masturbate. A girl or woman’s period is something that happens on its own accord and she had no control over it.

PhD Student

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6 comments on “Just because it’s tradition, doesn’t mean you have to follow it.
  1. [...] So, after four years, I finally got round to being baptised. Full immersion was not as scary as I imagined it. To be honest, I had never expected it to be of any specific spiritual significance, which is one of the reasons why I hadn’t been too fussed about going through it before. I wasn’t too keen to indulge what I had previously seen as some ritual. (I come from a Hindu background where people perform rituals left, right and centre without knowing why they are doing it, other than that it is traditional.) [...]

  2. [...] Something is not considered to be in keeping with the culture, if it goes against the traditional way of doing things. In The Future of Hegel, the French philosopher, Catherine Malabou, says that [...]

  3. [...] a Hindu background, I realise that many professing Hindus are in fact cultural Hindus. They do the rituals because they have always been done, but they don’t know why they are doing it. Cultural [...]

  4. [...] number 8, ‘Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t mean you have to follow it‘, a post on irrationality of ritual, with specific reference to the Tamil coming of age [...]

  5. [...] Well, it’s 2012. I’ve just realised how ironic it is that I always mark the start of a new year by looking to the past. For some reason, my family (dad, mum, sister and myself) have developed our new year traditions. [...]

  6. [...] onto the bizarre subject of the traditional ‘coming of age’  or ‘age attainment‘ ceremony that Tamil parents arrange for their daughters following the first period. (I [...]

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