I have spent nearly 15 years growing up in Tamilnadu though I am basically from Delhi and found this practice odd too. Upon inquiry I was told that like today finding a match for a girl was often considered tedious or difficult.
Moreover having married a Tamilian, I have a respect and regard for their culture and so wish to highlight why this practice evolved though most families don’t follow it now!
There was the dowry issue, the caste that had to be matched and God forbid if the girl was “Manglik” she would have a hard time finding a groom. So in such circumstances it was considered a security that the maternal Uncle or cousin would marry the girl. Of course the south Indian beloved metal gold would stay in the family and the land too.
One must understand that dowry was and is still a very real problem in southern states, so this practice was actually was a relief to the parents in many ways. Moreover ancient middle eastern societies too followed this practice and they all gave birth to healthy children, so southern India is not an exceptional case!
The custom of marrying an uncle or first cousin is not a stone writ as some believe it is just that the uncle has the first right with the girls’ consent of course followed by the first cousin and then any outsider if the suitor doesn’t please the girl!
One might think this custom odd but I have done my degree from south and oh the times these couples have during Valentines day that too with the full permission of their parents, these traditional looking girls would be glowing with delight. So I think if the south Indian girls are happy with their custom so be it, well it works for them if not for others!
It’s not only for dowry but also the fact that in states like Kerala, girls outnumber boys and there are good chances that a number of girls might never find a guy as all get booked. In fact the reason that Kerala has so many nuns is partially due to this cause. So a parents’ mindset would be to secure the future of his daughter in such circumstances.
However, every parent wants their children’s good and happiness and all they do is to that end so if a girl expresses their unhappiness over such proposals their likes and dislikes are usually respected!