Guwahati, Mar 6: Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development recently organized two talks by two eminent social scientists at the conference hall of the institute, a press release said. Dr Vee Talwar Oldenburg spoke on the topic, “The Evolution of Dowry from Safety Net to Noose” where she complicated the issue of dowry in both 19th and 20th century in India and explored the historical connection between the Indian practice of dowry and the murder of females, either as infants or as brides.
According to her, in pre-colonial India, dowry system used to be a safety net for women in a system with no provision of women inheriting parental property. But with the intervention of colonialism, the system changed and became a tool of extracting money or property from the bride’s family. Using a mixture of archival research into the history of female infanticide and contemporary interviews with victims of domestic violence, Oldenburg argued in her lecture that it was precisely colonial policies regarding property rights and taxation that dramatically altered the fortunes of agrarian families, with a tremendous negative impact on Indian women.
With the colonialism and changing property relations, women were cut off from the economy. Moreover the rigid colonial system of taxation pushed many into poverty and penury. With fincial situation of the families growing more desperate, in-laws took control of the dowry to pay off debts. Furthermore, the increased preference for sons in an increasingly competitive economy lowered women’s social status, making it possible for boys’ families to make specific dowry demands. The discussant Prof Tilottoma Mishra deliberated upon how colonialism brought changes in Assamese society too and bolstered patriarchy.
In the second lecture titled “Why India is a Democracy and Pakistan is Not” Philip Oldenburg explains why India and Pakistan have had different experiences of democracy since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. The crux of his argument lies in the proposition that the elected politicians must be able to control the bureaucratic and military wings of the state in a democracy. The domince of the Indian politicians has not seriously been questioned whereas in Pakistan military have escaped civilian control soon after its independence. The speaker had identified 1977 as a landmark year in India and Pakistan as there was a possibility that Pakistan might deepen its democracy and India might continue its authoritarian experiment. Instead opposite happened and the two paths diverged in important ways. The military has further entrenched in Pakistan, while India moved away from authoritarian rule.