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Ethnographic Accounts


Rohini Mokashi Punekar

UNDERSTANDING INDIAN SOCIETY: PAST AND PRESENT
Edited by B.S. Baviskar  and Tulsi Patel
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2010, pp. 378, price not stated

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 7 July 2012

This is a volume of engaging essays intended as a festschrift in honour of the eminent sociologist, Professor A.M. Shah, edited by two of his former students who are today well known academics themselves. Covering a vast array of subjects, the volume is eclectic in character, bringing to the reader the freshness of each contributor’s individual on going academic interest. That there is no overall thematic unity to the essays is part of the charm of this book. It is rather pleasant to be taken by surprise, and the leisurely fashion with which the ethnographic accounts in most of the essays advance the argument contributes to the charm. However, since the book has been in the making for the better part of a decade and a half, many of the papers have a slightly dusty and dog eared feel in the trajectory of argument which their discussions trace. The reader feels somewhat let down when expectations of connections to more contemporary developments in debates and issues raised by the papers fail to be made. The editors attempt to herd fifteen diverse papers into four broad areas: gender relations, religion, developmental concerns and social change, and disciplinary concerns in the field of sociology. Of the three essays on gender in Part I of the volume, two focus on Muslim women. While Mohini Anjum’s ethnographic portrayal of Muslim women in Old Delhi makes engaging reading, the contention which the author makes about they being able to create space for themselves within the broad framework of patriarchy, based on her study of four middle-class matriarchs, seems somewhat untenable given the circumscribed basis of her data sources. Women of a certain age and class actively collude with patriarchy, viz., the mother-in-law for instance, and thus perpetuate constricting structures. This aspect may be read between the lines in Vishwanath’s well researched and fascinating paper on female infanticide during the colonial period in India. Colonial records reveal that female infanticide was a mechanism for maintaining status and dominance among castes such as Rajputs, Kanbis and Lewa Patidars, Jats, Ahirs and Gujars in parts of north and west India. In the introduction, the editors quote from a letter by Vishwanath to one of the editors connecting this with female foeticide in the last couple of decades. However, the paper itself does not refer to the contemporary scenario of the missing girl child. Tulsi ...


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