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Women and Family Structure

Saraswathi Raju

By Pauline Kolenda
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2003, pp. xviii 460, Rs. 795.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 2 February 2007

This volume is a collection of 14 papers covering Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in the north, Maharashtra in the central and old South Travancore in south India. The papers are organized in VI parts. Part I is composed of four papers which deal with Khalapur in western Uttar Pradesh – the first two are about Chuhras during 1950s and the second two draw from later fieldwork undertaken in 1984 with a gap of about thirty years. These studies together deal with former untouchables with reference to sweeper women’s experiences with the practice of mandatory levirate as well as the sweeper men’s risqué humour that questions traditional system of purdah and turn it upside down. The latter two papers in this section are essentially concerned with changing caste ideology and other social practices, i.e., child mortality in Khalapur over recent decades and seek to explain that decline. Part II is composed of four papers largely focused on Smartha Brahmans of Dharmarajpuram in Kanyakumari district, Tamilnadu over an extended period between 1969 and last in 1980. Three of the papers deal with the loss of the elite status that they had because of their association with the Maharaja of Travancore, their unusual family structure related to their adoption of secular education and migration out for work, and their experiences of out-migration. The fourth paper discusses the circulation of land among villagers of various caste-communities in Kanyakumari.   Kolenda had done extensive ethnographic fieldwork in villages adjoining Jaipur in Rajasthan in the 1960s and 70s which are included in Part III. The issues related to marriage pattern in rural Rajasthan as well as census-based observations on Indian family structures for India as a whole. Kolenda’s familiarity both through quantitative and qualitative data from various regions of India formed the basis of the next section - Part IV, which comprise two papers, one on marriage and women in a framework comparing the image of ‘woman’ in weddings in Khalapur and in Kanyakumari, and the other comparing brother-sister relations in north, central and south India. The author’s long standing engagement with caste in India is visible albeit in the lone chapter on caste in India since Independence in Part V. Finally, Part VI contains two papers on different aspects of inequality. One compares inequality in India and the USA. The other speaks of “the too-easy scapegoating of ‘untouchables’ in a scholarly discourse" (the back flap of ...

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