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Family And Gender In A Neo-Liberal Context

Anuja Agrawal

By Kumkum Sangari
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2015, pp. xii 264, Rs. 695.00


Solid: Liquid offers significant new insights about the emerging configurations of family and gender relations in Indian society which are increasingly being shaped by a neoliberal state and market. Focused on the practices of sex selection and commercial surrogacy, Sangari makes a strong case for the relevance, if not indispensability, of a triadic framework made up of family, state and market to analyse the emerging and persisting patriarchal configurations in contemporary India. As revealed through an incisive analysis of the uses to which assisted reproductive technologies have been put in India, this work shows that patriarchal practices exist both within and outside a transnational capitalist regime and must not be mistaken as ‘women’s issues’ (p. 156). The enigmatic title of the book is the author’s take on the famous statement made by Marx: ‘All that is solid melts into the air’, signifying the excessively amorphous and elusive character of the patriarchal formations in a neoliberal context. Though somewhat inaccessible in terms of writing style, owing also to the extremely voluminous endnotes which make up more than one third of the book’s text, there are many significant insights in this work. Dedicated to her former colleague and co-author Sudesh Vaid, the book is a product of the author’s engagement with the issues of sex selection and commercial surrogacy for almost a decade. Moving beyond the standard explanations of sex selection, Sangari offers a nuanced analysis which focuses upon how marriage practices have undergone shifts in response to changes in inheritance laws and the intensification of a highly mediatized and commercialized marriage industry. She argues persuasively that sex selection is ‘not merely caused by dowry, but also propels dowry; the two have a symbiotic and mutually normalizing relation’ (p. 23, emphasis author’s). She demonstrates how the dowry system has morphed into a system of ‘marriage demands’ as a result of the contradiction between the knowledge of daughter’s inheritance rights, on the one hand, and its de facto non implementation. This creates a system of marriage based on ‘gift extraction’ in which all sides participate willfully, a fact which draws our attention to how the natal and marital families are ‘shifting positions’ and not fixed locations. Tying this with a critical analysis of ‘marital/natal propertarianism’ (as distinguished from market based propertarianism as well as feminist propertarianism), the author suggests that in addition to regulatory marriage, the ‘post-conception/pre-natal ...

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