Wives, Widows & Concubines : The Conjugal Family Ideal in Colonial India

Wives, Widows & Concubines : The Conjugal Family Ideal in Colonial India

Product ID: 26993

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Author: Mytheli Sreenivas
Publisher: Black Swan
Year: 2009
Language: English
Pages: 169
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9788125037255


Based on archival research on the Tamil-speaking region of southern India, this work investigates the emergence of the family as a site of intense ideological ferment under the conditions of late colonial rule. During this period, intimate aspects of marriage practice – ranging from the emotional compatibility of husband and wife to the caste politics of choosing a spouse – became targets for public dispute and debate. Sreenivas demonstrates that this public discourse about families was the most visible manifestation of a broader historical shift in the Tamil region, whereby the conjugal relationship increasingly displaced the extended patrilineal kin group as the normative centre of family relations.

Emerging earliest among professional and mercantile elites seeking to reform colonial property relations, and fuelled by the feminist and anti-caste politics of nationalist movements, this emphasis on conjugality took numerous, sometimes contradictory, forms. On the one hand, conjugality provided a language with which women laid claim to a host of rights, from the right to inherit a deceased husband's property to the right to seek emotional and sexual fulfillment in marriage. On the other hand, appeals to conjugality also served to reinscribe women's oppression both inside and outside marriage. Mapping this complex history in relation to the culture, politics, and economy of the Tamil region, the book opens new arenas of inquiry about the family and colonial modernity in South Asia.

Recipient of the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences from the American Institute of Indian studies this book would be of special interest to historians of modern South Asia, as well as anthropologists, sociologists with an interest in women and gender.


Note on Transliteration

Introduction: Situating Families

1. Colonizing the Family: Kinship, Household, and State
2. Conjugality and Capital: Defining Women’s Rights to Family Property
3. Nationalizing Marriage: Indian and Dravidian Politics of Conjugality
4. Marrying for Love: Emotion and Desire in Women’s Print Culture

Conclusion: Families and History