Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

and Halli, 1999). They argue that India has begun to face an excess supply of women of marriageable ages because of changes such as declining infant and child mortality and the reduction in numbers of widowers available as maternal mortality declined, as well as because women tend to marry men who are older than them. This view would argue that this change resulted in both a longer search for a suitable husband and higher dowries (Amin and Cain, 1997; Bhat and Halli, 1999; Caldwell, Reddy, and Caldwell, 1983; Rao, 1993). Others would argue that increases in marital age may be attributed to shifts in the education of boys and girls and the imposition of a legal minimum age at marriage (Amin and Cain, 1997).

It is well known that marriage patterns reflect a fundamental difference between women from north and south India, and Hindu and Muslim women (see, e.g., Dyson and Moore, 1983; Karve, 1965). However, the extent to which these patterns are changing over time is less well studied. For example, there has been considerable public education on the problems associated with early marriage and laws against marriage to females under 19 and these, along with a growing recognition of the importance of educating females, would argue for an increase in marital age. Legal sanctions exist, at least in theory, against the practice of dowry; yet the consumer culture and the greater education levels of young males are argued to have prompted families to demand larger dowries than before.

In the more patriarchal kinship structure prevailing in the north, and particularly among the Hindus, marriage is regarded as an alliance of two families and involves the incorporation of outsiders as wives into the family. The resulting village exogamy prevailing in the north ensures a break between the natal family and the family into which a woman is married: not only is a woman married off into a distant village, but kinship rules ensure that, by and large, no other women from her natal family, or even village, can be married into the same village (Karve, 1965). The practice of marrying young girls into distant villages and into families with which previous contact has been limited at best and subsequent contacts are usually infrequent heightens women’s powerlessness (Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1973). In contrast, north Indian Muslims are much more likely than Hindus to marry kin, and less likely to practice village exogamy. In the south, both Hindu and Muslim women enjoy less alienating marriage ties. Here, marriage is more a means of consolidating existing kinship networks than a political alliance. As a result, there are fewer restrictions on marriage within the village or within easy travelling distance from the woman’s natal village.

In Tamil Nadu, marriages often take place among affines. As in the north, the practice of dowry is common. Although in the north the pattern and flow of resources is strictly one way, even after marriage (Das Gupta, 1987), in Tamil Nadu, women themselves appear to have more control over their dowries. Unlike women in the north who are traditionally per-

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement