Dowry Murder - The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime

Dowry Murder - The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime

Product ID: 7631

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Author: Veena Talwar Oldenburg
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2003
Language: English
Pages: 261
ISBN/UPC (if available): 019 5664612


The custom of dowry has long been blamed for the murder of wives and female infants in India. In this highly provocative book, Veena Talwar Oldenburg argues that these killings are neither about dowry nor an Indian culture or caste system that encourages violence against women.

Rather, such killings can be traced directly to the influences of the British colonial era and the resulting legislation. In the pre-colonial period, dowry, an institution managed by women to enable them to establish their independence, was a safety net. As a consequence of the massive economic and societal upheaval brought on by British rule, however, women’s control of the system diminished and the net was twisted into a deadly noose.

A forceful look at the worsening treatment of women in modern India concludes this remarkably original book. Drawing on her personal experiences, the author shows how even as the law has prohibited dowry, it has deepened the misunderstanding of the motives for the deaths and silenced the women involved.

Combining rigorous research with impassioned analysis and a nuanced treatment of complex issues, this book critiques colonial policy while holding a mirror to gender discrimination in modern India. It will be welcomed by students and scholars of modern Indian history, sociology, and gender studies, as well as general readers interested in the topical and perennially controversial subject of dowry death.


Oldenburg provocatively argues that the laudable efforts of women’s organizations to fight the violence against newly-wed wives as dowry violence, is to remain tied to the legal field of culpable acts, leaving unaddressed the difficult issue of the sexuality of the virgin bride. A remarkable work of historical scholarship and social analysis.

-Shahib Amin, Professor of History, Delhi University

One of Dowry Murder’s many original contributions is to link the discourses on female infanticide/dowry in the high colonial period with the current discourse on dowry. Oldenburg provides a complex picture of causality.

-Barbara Metcalf, Professor of History, University of California, Davis

A strong, contentious book on an intellectually and socially hot topic, Dowry Murder offers a rich and complex answer to the question: What are the causes of violence against women in India, of female infanticide, dowry deaths and battering?

-Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

With this study, Oldenburg has turned the standard interpretation of both sati and dowry death on its head. Her methodology combines the historian’s careful combing of the archives with the anthropologist’s use of life histories and interviews. This is a provocative and original work of scholarship. Many ill disagree with it but few will be able to ignore it.

-Gail Minault, professor of History, University of Texas, Austin

Oldenburg has a unique and compelling voice as a historian. She has left no stone, or document, unturned in her search for answers.

-Geraldine Forbes, Professor of History, State University of New York, Oswego



Conundrums and Contexts

The Just-So Stories about Female Infanticide

The Tangled Tale of Twisting a Safety Net into a Noose

Engineering a Masculine World

Local Customs and the Economy Grow Mustaches

Writing Lives, Underwriting Silences:
Understanding Dowry Death in Contemporary India