The Price of Dowry


Ravi Seyan

April 1994

I would like to point out that the paper is under revision and represents only my point of view. This means that all the mistakes are my responsibility. Please email your comments to

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The Price of Dowry

When I listen to my mother talk about the Punjab village she grew up in, she tells about the people of her village - their poverty, their education, their land, births, deaths and marriages. And once in a while she will touch upon a rumour where villagers claim that so-and-so killed his/her daughter secretly. My aunt (father's brother's wife) tells of her neighbour who witnessed a woman pouring cooking fuel all over herself and setting herself alight after continuous abuse from her husband and in-laws. Thinking back the cause of her abuse seems likely to have been an inadequate dowry or the failure to bear a son. I always considered these cases as exceptions, abnormalities. In the literature that I had read before my 'anthropology days', there were few references to female infanticide in India. That the Inuit and the Yanomamo also practiced the custom I was to discover much later, as I began to realize the extent of female infanticide across cultures.

However I was not struck by the enormity of the situation in India until after I had viewed a film in one of my classes at Dalhousie University - Children of Desired Sex (1988), reporting a sex ratio of 935 females for every 1000 males. But it was after watching Let Her Die (1993) and a reported 25 million women missing that I decided to research the topic further.

I was especially interested in female infanticide among the Sikhs of the Punjab. Sikh women generally claim to enjoy freedom greater than Hindu women in Northern India. They are allowed to lead religious services and baptism ceremonies and are guaranteed equality according to the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. They themselves may be baptized. Child marriages are prohibited and remarriage of widows is accepted. The custom of sati , the burning of the widow on her husband's funeral pyre, is expressly forbidden. Funeral pyres, unlike in Hinduism, do not have to be lit by sons to ensure salvation. Any close relative will suffice. As Sikhism stresses life as a householder, women become essential to men to fulfil religious duty (Cole and Sambhi, 1978).

From Let Her Die (1993) the participation of Sikhs in the practice of female infanticide cannot be denied. Miller (1987), after five days of observing admissions, noted that not a single family brought in their daughter(s) to the Ludhiana Christian Medical College, Punjab. Murray J. Leaf (1972) conducted a population census for Shahidpur, Punjab, a primarily Sikh village, to utilize in his ethnography. He reports a resident sex ratio of 480 men to 391 women, and for the age category 0-15 years, a sex ratio of 194 males to 158 females.

Malcolm Lyall Darling (1934), in his travels across the Punjab as a representative of the Indian Civil Service, noted that boys were breast-fed longer than girls. Village men said that this was because boys were dearer as they inherited the land. Darling also noted examples of female autonomy in the Punjab - for example, women are in charge of the household stores of grain and men have to ask and consult them before selling. Nonetheless, female infanticide appears to be prevalent among Sikh Jats (land owning class of the Punjab) and Hindu Rajputs (Darling, 1934).

Despite my initial interest and as a result of such fragmented, contradictory and inadequate information, I felt unable to research and write on this particular topic without proper fieldwork and/or careful analysis of census data. Instead I was forced to take a broader perspective and treat the whole of North India as one homogeneous area with no class/religious/geographical variation, a situation I had originally sought to remedy.

In the literature the predominant perspective on current practice of female infanticide in India is an economic one. It is not my intention to discredit this outlook, but to add another one - that of kinship relations, thereby adding another stone in a complex mosaic which attempts to depict female infanticide and which may never be fully completed.

Humble as my contribution may be, I would like to dedicate this paper to my classificatory sisters who number in millions and are no longer with us because of 'unnatural' causes of death.

The Economic Perspective

One cultural anthropologist who has offered an explanation for the phenomenon of female infanticide is Barbara D. Miller. She begins her 1981 book The Endangered Sex with a simple statement:

"We are faced with the fact of a scarcity of females in the northwestern plains of India, especially in the upper social stratum there. This scarcity can be seen in the proportions of sexes among children in rural India which vary in a stark regional pattern: boys are numerically preponderant in the northern plains but nowhere else. Other kinds of data point to a greater preponderance of males in the upper social echelon in the North. These patterns demand an explanation: why are there more boys in northern upper-class groups and nowhere else?" (Miller, 1981:23)

The author draws a distinction between the North and South; it is the North that exhibits skewed sex ratios, but only in the upper classes. Miller explains this through a theory synthesized from production, property and population.

Following the 'discovery' of female infanticide in 1789, reports to the British government of entire villages with no female children increased and in 1870 the British Rule banned the practice of female infanticide. Nineteenth century evidence indicates that the practice was especially prevalent among the northern upper classes. The British saw two reasons for female infanticide - marrying one's daughter to families of the same or preferably higher status (hypergamy) and supplying her with dowry to ensure marriage to higher status.

The General Report of 1872 gave a sex ratio of 106.4 males to 100 females (101.0 males for adults; 114.8 males for juveniles, i.e. children below 10 years of age). Miller herself in a later article (1987) estimates a sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls for Northern India in 1871. In other words reports of female infanticide exist in writing for the era of the British Raj (Miller, 1981).

Nor is the practice one of the past. The 1961 Census of India reports a sex ratio of 1063 males to 1000 females for the entire nation and geographically sex ratios conform to the North/South model proposed by Miller. The 1961 sex ratio for the Punjab is the highest - 1157 males to 1000 females! In the Punjab 85% of all infant deaths aged 7-36 months were female (Miller, 1987). Miller argues that these skewed ratios cannot be caused by birth sex ratios; instead they are due to differentials in mortality rates for boys and girls. These differentials in turn are caused by preference for boys and neglect of girls in allocation of food, medical attention and love.

Central to Miller's explanation is the concept of 'worth' which she relates to work. Among the propertied groups in North India where the sex ratios are most skewed (e.g. Sikh Jats), women are excluded from agricultural labour and as a consequence are not economically valuable. Members of the northern propertied groups do not give labour but dowry as a reason for why girls are considered burdensome. The purpose of dowry is to increase the prestige of the girl's family by marrying her to a husband from a good family, ideally of higher status. Overall the girl's family pay more than the groom's in marriage and gifts. This itself may be reason enough for female infanticide, contributing further to unbalanced sex ratios (Miller, 1981).

Another factor threatening female survival is the strong cultural preference for sons. Name and property are transferred through sons (patrilineal descent). Sons look after parents in their old age and are essential for Hindu religious rituals. Furthermore, there is no need to accumulate a dowry for sons. Instead the son's bride brings dowry with her (Miller, 1981). Sons are also needed in local power disputes over land and water rights (Miller, 1987). This last factor is of crucial importance in the Punjab where local politics and power struggles between parties/factions appear to be a way of life (Darling, 1934; Leaf, 1972). Violence was not uncommon between factions early this century (Darling, 1934).

In summary then, unbalanced sex ratios, a result of female infanticide, are caused by the lack of economic worth of women and the compounding cultural preference for male offspring. This is Miller's explanation. Despite her emphasis on social class variation in female infanticide, Miller does not explore the practice along the dimension of religion. It is my intention to add residence rules and perspectives of kinship to the economic perspective of participation in the mode of production and questions of 'worth'.

Kin Corporate Lineages

To understand patterns of kinship and their implications, gender relations and residence patterns have to be explored. Here we turn to Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson (1986).

They argue that gender oppression emerged with the development of corporate kin groups out of communal societies. Among corporate kin lineages all members could access the property equally. Non-members (e.g. strangers) did not have this access. The method of oppression was through marriage and residence patterns (Coontz and Henderson, 1986).

So in patrilocal societies, prevalent in North India (Hershman, 1981; Jeffery, Jeffery and Lyon, 1989; Leaf, 1972) women marry and change residence, and become producers but not owners of property (land) held by a kin corporate lineage (Coontz an d Henderson, 1986). In other words, women work (although as Miller contends, their work may be undervalued or not valued at all), but they retain no control over the product of their labour performed on property owned by kin corporate lineages.

The argument at this point can be considered circular: if women did have control (i.e. were owners as well as producers), their work would be valued. Coontz and Henderson (1986) argue that in patrilocal societies there was potential for corporate kin lineages to interact with the sexual division of labour, resulting in social stratification and unequal gender relations.

There are several important implications of kin corporate lineages owning property. First, there is emphasis on unilineal descent and emergence of a lineage head who has ultimate control of the products of labour (Coontz and Henderson, 1986). In the case of North India, this means patrilineal descent and a senior male as the head of a lineage.

The second consequence is the institutionalization of the sexual division of labour, which may result in separate spheres for men and women. This implies a form of rigidity in the sexual division of labour, fostering dependence. In patrilocal societies this means that women early in marriage only have their husbands to perform 'men' tasks for them, while their husbands have their mothers and/or unmarried sisters in addition to their wives for the execution of 'women' tasks. Married men can then draw on greater social resources in the household when compared to their brides.

Third, for corporate kin groups reproduction becomes vitally important to ensure the property remains within the kin corporate lineage. Here is scope for the control of women and their reproductive capacities (Coontz and Henderson, 1986). In North India, this means a preference for sons to ensure continuation of the kin corporate lineage and the ideology of the mother/son relationship. Biological fatherhood becomes important and consequently, women's sexuality has to be controlled.

Furthermore there is an increase in the potential for conflict, enhancing the role of male warriors. Labour, water and land can all become sources of dispute. Even if violence is not utilized in the present day, conflict of the Punjab, 'male warriors' can still intimidate and threaten their opponents in local power disputes.

Fifth, differences in access make marriage and adoption more elaborate. Formal exchange networks for distribution are formed. Finally, exchange now occurs between groups and not individuals. The lineage head here exercises control again. In the Punja b it is the head of the kin corporate lineage that makes ritual prestations on behalf of his lineage at ceremonies such as weddings (Hershman, 1981).

Women, being producers but not owners, forfeit the products of their labour and so cannot redistribute and/or foster social networks of their own in the same fashion as men do. These six factors have the potential to introduce inequalities bet ween men and women (Coontz and Henderson, 1986). In Northern India, inequalities stemming from the consequences of kin corporate lineages are not difficult to identify.

Patrilocal societies, Coontz and Henderson further argue, have the advantage of being able to accumulate wealth, labour, prestige and power when compared to matrilocal societies. First, because patrilocal societies concentrate related males, they bring in more variable wealth as their domain is further from the household base (e.g. trade). This wealth means more prestige through redistribution; prestige implies power.

Second, patrilocal societies can use women, producers but not owners, to contribute to redistributive supplies. This creates situations of vulnerability for women when men demand increased labour. Third, redistribution in patrilocal societies over time reinforces the seniority of a lineage head, usually male.

Fourth, patrilocal societies can rapidly expand their source of female labour through marriage and polygyny. Marrying women into one kin corporate lineage is much faster than raising a daughter to maturity only to have her leave through marriage for ano ther group and hence lose her labour. Fifth, polygyny produced more in terms of the next generation. This ability of patrilocal societies to channel labour and prestige lead to formation of class societies (Coontz and Henderson, 1986).

In stratified or state societies the pinnacle of male dominance is the virgin complex (Ortner, 1978). Here the sexual purity of women reflects the honour of the family or kin corporate lineage in the case of North India. Honour, and so women, become sources of con flict reinforcing the role of male warriors. Hindu (and some Sikh) sisters tie thread/cloth around their brothers right wrist to remind them of their duty of protection towards their sisters. This is the custom of raksha bhandhan .

Ortner links the virgin complex to hypergamy (marriage of a woman to man of a higher status). Here dowry becomes important as an incentive for a higher status man to marry a woman from a lower status family. Furthermore, following in the footsteps of the increased importance of reproduction, motherhood is culturally glorified (Ortner,1978). This is especially true for the birth of sons in North India. In Hindu mythology a common theme is the very strong love between mother and son, as exemplified by the God Krishna and his adopted mother Yashoda.

Interestingly enough, Miller (1981) claims that dowry is associated with upper class groups in North India, where female infanticide is most prevalent, while lower class groups, she maintains, are associated with bridewealth. Elsewhere she has argued a shift from direct to indirect female infanticide from the British Raj to the present (1987). Indirect female infanticide may be unconscious, for example through the deprivation of love when the birth of a baby girl is greeted with disappointment (Miller, 1981).

"The mother-in-law laments
My daughter-in-law has given birth to a girl
How terrible! How sad!
A girl is born
I made offerings to the Gods
I'd kept a fast
Still a girl is born."
Folk song performed by street musicians ( Children of the Desired Sex , 1988)

The issue is further complicated by new reproductive technologies and female infanticide through abortion. Juvenile sex ratios can now be seen as a direct result of unbalanced sex ratios at birth. Amniocentesis (Children of the Desired Sex, 1988) and ultrasound (Let Her Die , 1993) offer information about the sex of the foetus and parents can then make a calculated, deliberate, rational, conscious choice about the fate of the foetus.

Adding Kinship

Miller (1981) gives the etic perspective. Let us now listen to the emic one. The same reasons are offered to explain female infanticide as the British Raj officials outlined - poverty and dowry - in addition to the cultural preferences for sons. The first two factors ar e linked in a circular fashion: if you are poor, it is difficult to accumulate a dowry (dowries) for one's daughter (daughters) and in process of arranging a dowry, you may make yourselves poor. Here is what Indians have to say:

"With a son our family line will flourish. After all, daughters marry and leave the family. They take the name of their husbands. The birth of a son will keep our family name alive. If it doesn't happen, that's my destiny."
mother of three daughters, expecting her fourth child (Children of the Desired Sex , 1988).

"You see in India we have to give a lot of dowry for a girl's marriage. You worry about her honour, her education. A girl costs a lot of money. With a son, he learns, doesn't learn, earns, doesn't earn - there is no worry."
father of one daughter and one son, wife has already aborted two female foetuses after sex-determination through amniocentesis ( Children of the Desired Sex, 1988).

"We're struggling just to survive. We can't even afford this daughter. That's why we didn't want a second girl, so we killed her. With this poverty it is better to kill now. This way the pain lasts only for one day. Otherwise we'd be shedding tears for a lifetime, watching her suffer as she grows up."
Tamil Nadu labourer, father of one daughter (Let Her Die, 1993).

Poverty, dowry and reasons for son preference are frequently given as causes of female infanticide. Frighteningly enough, one affluent household analyzed situation in terms of a consumer choice:

"Just like I have a black suit, I want to have a green suit also or a yellow suit also. You can say that. A lot of colours you should have. But now I have two daughters, now I want a son."
mother of two daughters (Let Her Die , 1993).

Sex-determination tests and abortions are available relatively cheaply and the phenomenon of female infanticide appears to be no longer confined to Miller's propertied upper class of the North (1981). Instead it occurs now in Tamil Nadu, South India and in large urban centres and among the educated. Dowry has spread to the matrilineal societies of Kerala (Manushi, 1979); unfortunately there is no reference to post-marital residence patterns. Let Her Die (1993) reports a sex ratio of 116 boys to 100 girls at birth and an estimated 3000 female foetus abortions per day in India. With already 25 million women missing from a population of almost 900 million, the long-term consequences for India are likely to be disastrous.

Population control is at present the Indian government's top priority. The government maintains that new reproductive technologies are for the purpose of detecting foetal abnormalities and has banned their use for sex-determination. Although sex-determination clinics are available both privately and rurally, for abnormality detection women have to travel to government-run clinics in large urban centres. The government pleads ignorance to the fact that these technologies are used for the purposes of sex-determination (Children of the Desired Sex , 1988).

Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi , a woman's journal claims otherwise:

"I do believe that the government and international lobby is behind this move to encourage it as a population control measure. And I have seen it in many of the documents, time and again, both government documents as well as many of the studies done on the question of population control and sex ratio, this, that and the other. [They] very unmistakably state this conclusion that if this test is brought in on a large enough scale and is available c heaply and easily, then it can somewhat tackle the problem of overpopulation."
(Children of the Desired Sex, 1988).

So far it appears that daughters are economic burdens on their parents, especially with regards to dowry. Dowry is a custom that at this point should be explored further.

There are two types of property in Northern India, movable and non-moveable (land). Ursula Sharma (1984) defines dowry as wealth that changes residence upon marriage as women do (patrilocal post-marital residence). Although it has been considered as the pre-mortem inheritance of daughters (for example, by S.J. Tambiah among others), in practice brides do not retain control over their dowries which belongs to the groom and their kin (Sharma, 1984).

Sharma links dowry to kanya dhan or 'the gift of the virgin'. Here the father gives his daughter dowry out of his love for her and for religious worth. The groom's family is not supposed to make any demands, but rarely adheres to this residual rule. Another reason for giving dowry is the increased prestige for the father (or head of the corporate kin lineage) and the raised status of his daughter in her husband's house.

Hershman (1981), in his analysis of Punjabi kinship, describes the custom of ninda as practiced by maximal lineages (these can be roughly equated to kin corporate lineages). Maximal lineages, although no longer as powerful as in the past, are agnatic kin groups which hold rights to a joint, ancestral property. Ninda occurred shortly before the marriage of a daughter. Each household of the maximal lineage would make a gift of money to the bride's father and so help him pay for marriage expenses and contribute to the dowry. Today ninda has disintegrated and only ritual prestations are given under special circumstances (Hershman, 1981).

This raises the interesting question of who then comes up with the dowry. Is it the father, and can he count on the financial help of his male kin? If the family is relatively well-off and the daughter is employed, she may save up and contribute toward her own dowry. Men in rural areas may borrow money from kin, but fathers in urban areas may be disadvantaged here. Whatever remains of ninda , it is more likely to be stronger in rural areas where members of one's maximal lineage are physically closer.

Sharma (1984) further claims that dowry is an issue that divides women among themselves. Older women give/receive it, while young women as brides simply bring it. The giving and taking of dowry for some parents almost becomes a necessary vicious circle:

"If we have to give dowry for our three daughters, then I'll have to accept dowry for my son, no? If we don't give dowry, we won't ask for it."
father of three daughters, wife expecting baby boy, sex determined through amniocentesis (Children of the Desired Sex, 1988).

The explanation at the forefront for dowry customs is the cost-benefit theory. Here dowry 'compensates' the groom's family for the addition of a non-productive member. In lower castes, marriage implies the addition of a productive member and the groom's family compensates for the loss of a daughter's labour through bridewealth. It appears however that the caste dimension has recently been broken down and dowry is now a custom of all castes (Sharma, 1984; Let Her Die, 1993). Dowries are also recycled: a son's wife's dowry may be used to form parts of a daughter's (Sharma, 1984) and mothers pass on items of their dowries to their daughters (Hershman, 1981).

In his description of hypergamy in the Punjab, Paul Hershman (1981) notes the flow of dowry and women in one direction only: from the lower-status wife giver to the higher-status wife receiver. Brother-sister exchange, which would cancel dowry, is not possible and violates the ideal of hypergamy. This is most clearly demonstrated by the kinship term for wife's brother - sala which also serves as a term of abuse and insult. It can also be linked back to concerns of honour, as it implies sexual relations with the insulted man's sister. Conversely, a sister's husband is addressed as bhanoia or jija . Both are terms of great respect and honour (Hershman, 1981).

Increased consumerism, partly through media advertisements linking women with consumer goods and through the influence of western capitalist consumer culture, has led to the inflation of dowries (No Longer Silent , 1986; Kishwar, 1986).

"We are being exposed to so many material things which were not there earlier: radios, TV sets, polyester clothing. The demands are growing and they seem to find that dowry is one way of fulfilling these demands."
Andal Damodharan, Indian Council for Child Welfare (Let Her Die, 1993).

This is a contradiction to the inherent non-materialism present in most Indian religions.

The groom's family, in essence, can then take advantage the unidirectional flow of gifts and money and demand more from the bride's parents who often comply due to their inferior status and their desire to see their daughter happily settled (Kishwar, 1986). Often these demands cannot be met and brides end up being harassed and abused. In extreme cases they are doused with kerosene and set on fire by their husbands and/or in-laws in "cooking accidents".

In 1978 there were 200 dowry deaths in the city of Delhi and in 1985 there were 611 (No Longer Silent, 1986). In 1991 there were 2,449 official dowry deaths in India, but it is estimated that the actual number is much higher (Let Her Die, 1993). It should be noted that the definition of death does not take abuse and/or maltreatment into consideration. Rarely does an issue of Manushi, a bimonthly women's journal, not report a new dowry death or developments in court proceedings concerning another. (For the pattern of and typical police responses to dowry deaths, see Manushi, 1979).

Everyone is sure to have known at least one woman who suffered from such abuse and constant taunts and who perhaps was even killed or driven to suicide.

"He [my husband] set me on fire with a match. I started screaming. When the landlord rang the doorbell, my husband did not open the door. I begged him to take me to a doctor, but he did not take me. . . It was not an accidental fire. My mother-in-law told me not to mention the real cause of the fire. She said it wouldn't be good for me or my sisters. That's why I gave wrong statements to everybody in the beginning."
75% burn victim (Let Her Die, 1993).

Parents would not want to see their daughters suffer in this manner and therefore abort or neglect them. As it is very costly to carry a foetus full-term on a woman's health (Jeffery, Jeffery and Lyon, 1989), women may decide to abort a female foetus rather than neglecting a female infant later. Perhaps it is also much easier to abort than to see a human waste away before one's eyes because of genuine poverty or to see the charred remains twenty years later. This could be another reason contributing further to the unbalanced sex ratio.

Married women are especially vulnerable to abuse due to their precarious position in their husband's household. Women are producers, but not owners in this corporate lineage. In the Punjab women never attain full membership in their husband's household; their funeral cloth on their death comes from their natal kin (Hershman, 1981). After marriage, their husband's house is the only socially acceptable residence for married daughters. Living with their natal kin, they are just considered burdens (Kishwar, 1986; Let Her Die, 1993).

The position of new brides in their affinal households is a precarious one. The bride has to obey and prove herself to her mother-in-law, or else she will bring shame to her natal kin (Leaf, 1972; Hershman, 1981). Separation after marriage has dire consequences for the woman. The man can remarry, but for the bride remarriage is practically impossible and she has to return to her natal kin, where she once again is a burden. The dowry, her parents' investment in her future, has gone to waste and furthermore, she has shamed them (Kishwar, 1986).

A woman is supposed to leave her husband's house permanently for one reason only - death. Women therefore tolerate considerable abuse (they are encouraged to 'adjust') before complaining and/or leaving. Most wait until they are thrown out before heading back to natal kin. Husbands and in-laws can use this dependence and concerns about honour to oppress women and continue demanding material goods after the initial transactions of dowry. It is the failure to meet these demands that often results in a horrific death.

One way for women to secure their position among their affinal kin is to add to the kin corporate lineage - by giving birth to a son. Women who have born sons are rarely thrown out of their affinal household (Hershman, 1981) But bearing sons is advantageous for women also. It is through sons that women carve their niches among affinal kin and as their sons grow older, women's power, exercised through their sons, may also increase depending on the relationship (e.g. advising or swaying their judgment in local politics).

Hershman (1981) outlines the advantages of household fission for young brides. Here their route to authority and greater freedom is much quicker and there are less people to please. Hershman contends that a woman's dowry often includes items needing for the setting up of an independent household. Questions of control concerning dowries arise again. Nonetheless here is a possible source for the conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, capable of causing considerable tension.

I believe that the position of women as brides is too insecure to cause tension among their affinal kin. There are also disadvantages associated with household fissioning. Mothers-in-law often help new mothers with their work (Jeffery, Jeffery and Lyon, 1989). In any case it remains difficult to make generalizations about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

I have linked female infanticide to the custom of dowry, a connection that Indians themselves identify. Dowry in turn is associated with hypergamy and a flow of prestations from the wife-giver to wife-receiver. This means that brides can be subjected to material demands (e.g. larger dowries after marriage). Furthermore, they are considered to be inferior in their affinal households due to the lower status of their natal kin and as a result their position is precarious. Their work is not valued. They are surrounded by strangers and do not have any autonomy and few friends.

Husbands may remarry after separation, but for women remarriage is impossible. Banishment from their husbands' home is considered shameful. Women as brides therefore experience considerable isolation and tension. To secure their position they must bear children in the hope of giving birth to a son. Through sex-determination this has become easier.

As dowry has to be paid for daughters and child-bearing is difficult, families may consciously decide to abort female foetuses. It is also possible that due to the isolation among affinal kin, expecting mothers themselves may not have a choice. Female infanticide through abortion after sex-determination is then both time- and cost-efficient in the short run, considering women's health and high mortality during birth and daughters' dowries.

The long-term consequences of these forms of woman abuse in India are unforeseeable. It is interesting to speculate what will happen when the deficit of women is felt in the 'marriage market'. Immediate solutions range from home visits to prevent female malnutrition (Miller, 1987) and increasing women's productive worth by supplying them with an education as a substitute for dowry (Kishwar, 1986). I tentatively suggest that equal distribution of material wealth among all castes/classes might do away with the hypergamy in terms of material goods. Why demand a colour TV in your wife's dowry if you already have one? But then, sometimes humans defy all possible logic.

However, banning amniocentesis, ultrasound and abortion in India is not the solution. We would only see proliferation in the black market and back-street abortionists, posing further risks to women's health. We are once again faced with the dilemma of twentieth century's new reproductive technologies and their potential for misuse:

"When we use such words as genocide [selective killing of the female sex primarily through abortion], we as women have to be very careful because the same argument is going to be used for denying us the right to abortion. And that's, I think, something that adds another very important dilemma to the whole question of what do we do. Because at once they will say, well then, any foetus destruction is bad and not just female foetus destruction. . . it is a real dilemma as far as campaigns and very practical politics is concerned."
Madhu Kishwar (Children of the Desired Sex, 1988).


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Darling, Malcolm Lyall (1934) Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village. New York:Oxford University Press.

Hershman, Paul (1981) Punjabi Kinship and Marriage. Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation.

Jeffery, Patricia; Roger Jeffery & Andrew Lyon (1989) Labour Pains and Labour Power: Women and Childbearing in India. New Jersey: Zed Books.

Kishwar, Madhu (1986) Dowry - To Ensure Her Happiness or to Disinherit Her? Manushi, 34, 2 - 13.

Leaf, Murray J. (1972) Information and Behaviour in a Sikh Village: Social Organization Reconsidered. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Manushi (1979) Married, Marketed and Murdered. . . , Manushi, July-August, 18 - 21.

Miller, Barbara D. (1981) The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in Rural North India. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Miller, Barbara D. (1987) Female Infanticide and Child Neglect in Rural India. In Brettell & Sargent (eds.) (1993) Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Ortner, Sherry B. (1978) The Virgin and The State. In Brettell & Sargent (eds.) (1993) Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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Children of the Desired Sex. CineContact Inc. 1988.

Let Her Die. British Broadcasting Corporation. 1993.

No Longer Silent. Cine-Sita. 1986.

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