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.