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ceived as temporary members in their natal homes (Dube, 1988), ties between women and their natal families in south India remain close even after marriage; while daughters may continue to receive gifts from their parents and nearest kin even after marriage (see, e.g., Bhat and Halli, 1999), in turn, the daughters provide emotional and sometimes (less frequently) economic support to their parents.

This chapter draws on data from a community-based survey on women’s autonomy in two culturally distinct sites: Uttar Pradesh in the north, in which the situation of women is especially poor, and Tamil Nadu in the south, where gender relations are somewhat more balanced, and women are relatively better off. About half the sample in each setting was composed of Hindu women, the other half Muslim women. The survey was conducted in 1993-1994 and included questionnaires for married women ages 15 to 39 and their husbands, if available. Findings presented elsewhere have addressed the measurement of distinct dimensions of autonomy, and have confirmed that social institutions of gender powerfully shape women’s autonomy here by region. Findings have not supported, however, the argument that Muslim women are at a disadvantage in terms of women’s autonomy, at least when compared to Hindu women from the same region (Jejeebhoy, 2000; Jejeebhoy and Sathar, 2001). Given that household data from this survey suggest that roughly 75 percent of women were already married by age 18, here we explore marriage patterns among those ages 19 to 39 (39 was the cut-off age for this survey).


Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu lie at two extremes of the social and cultural spectrum in India, although economically they are relatively similar. Both states are poor, with about 37 percent in Uttar Pradesh and 40 percent in Tamil Nadu (and 33 percent in India) living below the poverty level, and both states are largely agricultural (Uttar Pradesh, 72 percent; Tamil Nadu, 61 percent; India, 70 percent). Yet there are huge differences in social development levels. For example, literacy rates are much higher in Tamil Nadu (63 percent) than in Uttar Pradesh (42 percent), and fertility and mortality are much lower. The infant mortality rate is 98 per 1,000 live births in Uttar Pradesh and 58 in Tamil Nadu; the under-5 mortality rate is 141 in Uttar Pradesh and 87 in Tamil Nadu; and the total fertility rate is 5.1 in Uttar Pradesh and 2.2 in Tamil Nadu.

In most of India, both north and south, and among both Hindus and Muslims, the family is mainly patriarchal, patrilocal, and patrilineal, and the region is well known for inegalitarian gender relations (Altekar, 1962; Karve, 1965). Women are defined as inferior; husbands are assumed to “own” women and to have the right to dominate them. Inegalitarian gender relations deny women a decision-making role in family matters, inhibit

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