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Driven by Greed

Maithreyi Krishnaraj

By Tamsin Bradley , Emma Tomalin & Mangala Subramaniam
Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women), New Delhi, 2009, pp. 245, Rs. 350.00


The book is the outcome of a network called the Dowry Project, established in 1995 at an International Conference on Dowry and Bride Burning at Harvard, with the aim of encouraging , sharing and disseminating research in the areas of dowry, bride burning and son preference in South Asia and its diaspora. The issue of dowry became the focus of campigns by the Indian women’s movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s when incidents of harassment of women and her parents often including death of the bride by burning her took place. The book examines both theoretical explanations as well as field data and activists’ interventions. It is a welcome addition to our understanding of its original import as premortem inheritance for women at the time of marriage where women did not inherit land and were entitled only to moveable goods like jewelry, clothes and other assets. It orginally constituted ‘stree dhan’ or bride’s wealth.The transformation of this into the modern phenomenon of ‘dowry’ with its implications of extraction by grooms’ parents is seen as the result of several social and economic changes. The earlier ‘varadakshina’ , that is the gift to the groom at the time of marriage was just a token amount. Sociologists trace its present day avatar to the mid- and late twentieth century. The decline of landed property in joint families, the rise of independent incomes for men as a result of expansion of education and jobs during colonial period, gradual erosion of the value of women’s labour, rise of ‘domesticity’ in the upper castes and withdrawal of women fom family labour are the combination of circumstances that eventually led to increased valorization of men and a corresponding devalorization of women. A major reason is the compulsion for marriage for women and caste related marriage. As Uma Chakravrty has cogently argued, gender and caste are so intermeshed that caste cannot exist without marriages within caste/sub caste. It is often the result of seeking promotion to a higher caste or better economic staus by marrying ‘upwards’ But why and how did it spread to other castes and how did it get associated with violence against women? Authors like Uma Narayan reject the western feminist view that it is cultue specific to South Asia. Anthropologists recount the existence of dowry from times immemorial—rather more correctly exchange of gifts in the form of ‘bride price’ or other ...

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