- Reviewed by
Throughout the last two decades, Roger and Patricia Jeffery’s work has been instrumental in the development of our understanding of women’s status, reproductive health, and state-sponsored policies relating to health in India. Earlier books by the Jefferys challenge the overly simplistic north-south paradigm in explaining demographic trends in India and offer a micro-level examination of population characteristics in the context of jati (caste), class, and religious and political affiliation. In this book, the authors use historical, demographic, and ethnographical data, and draw upon their long-term field experience in northern India to explore the broader nexus of gender relations, jati characteristics, and local political and economic contexts in describing fertility differences among the Hindu Jats of Nangal and the Muslim Sheikhs of Qaziwala in rural Binjor, Uttar Pradesh.
The authors’ approach demonstrates a growing trend of interdisciplinary research and reinforces the importance of looking beyond the limits inherent in a conventional disciplinary inquiry. Their methodological and interpretive “tool-kits” represent a much-needed borrowing of concepts and methods from sociology, anthropology, history, and [End Page 373] demography. The core issues in the book involve an attempt to analyze fertility patterns in terms of the sociocultural and political economic contexts and to complement “the politics of gender, with a politics of class and community” (35). In doing so, the book offers a critical evaluation of issues in social demographic research in a multidisciplinary and refreshing manner, rather than conforming to a restrictive discipline-specific discourse.
In terms of methodology for social research in India, this book makes a strong case in favor of using jati as a unit of demographic analysis by convincingly demonstrating the centrality of jati affiliation in regulating social and fertility behavior. Supplemented with informative case studies, the book chapters critically discuss the relevant theoretical models and explanations provided by previous researchers before evaluating them in the context of the information collected in Nangal and Qaziwala. The introductory chapter outlines the methodological and conceptual developments in demographic research in India and forms a useful unifying section for the succeeding chapters in the book. The remaining chapters provide historical and current information about the community, regional, and national contexts of the two areas and their demographic differences—high fertility and high mortality among the Muslim Sheikhs, and low fertility and low mortality among the Hindu Jats.
Over the years, researchers have offered various models explaining fertility change across regional, socioeconomic, and religious boundaries in South Asia. These explanations generally range from variations in underlying economic rationalities (couples plan the number of children they have based on what makes sense economically) to differences in women’s status, gender ideology, and gender politics that allow women varying degrees of autonomy and control over their own fertility and finally to the so-called “ideational change” and women’s empowerment through schooling. The book provides an excellent opportunity to realize the limitations of using such simplistic explanations, presenting a timely critique of the so-called Cairo consensus that women’s education is a key to “modernization” by facilitating “rationality” to limit family size and reduce child mortality. Challenging the conventional wisdom in the field of social demography, the proposed alternative explanation traces the complex relationship between women’s lives and demographic change, and advocates a greater comprehension of the content of education and its meaning to those involved, in order to comprehend the causes of fertility differences.
Unlike earlier studies relating to demographic trends, this monograph also brings into focus the role played by state-sponsored policies and political discrimination in influencing demographic trends, and clarifies a good deal of imprecise thinking concerning the relevance of understanding people’s religious identities and positions within the local political economy in demographic research. Notwithstanding the limitations [End Page 374] imposed by a small sample size and the political climate in north India at the time of data collection, the strength of the book lies in its attempts to analyze fertility differences in terms of...