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NWSA Journal 13.3 (2001) 228-232

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Book Review

She Comes to Take Her Rights: Indian Women, Property, and Propriety

Borders & Boundaries: Women in India's Partition

The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India

She Comes to Take Her Rights: Indian Women, Property, and Propriety by Srimati Basu. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999, 305 pp., $65.00 hardcover, $21.95 paper.

Borders & Boundaries: Women in India's Partition by Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998, 274 pp., $20.00 paper.

The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000, 308 pp., $54.95 hardcover, $17.95 paper.

Rarely does one have the pleasure of reviewing books that offer an innovative reading of important areas of recent scholarship and provide an epistemic challenge to prior interpretations. Each of these books focuses on women as authors of their own destiny and as creators and transformers of social relations and institutions from which they had previously been elided. In so doing, they offer a feminist critique of extant analyses of property relations and war. Srimati Basu's study of the gendered division of property illuminates property relations as the site of conflict between established systems of privilege and the principles of individual rights and liberties. Basu is centrally concerned with how modes of reinscribing socioeconomic hegemonies are experienced by women in relation to their access to property and how they navigate established patterns of property transfer to fundamentally complicate the accepted commitment and enactment of gender equity. [End Page 228]

Each of the five substantive chapters in She Comes to Take Her Rights explores the myths and practices that sustain particular property relations. The second chapter broadly outlines women's control of property, including prevalent modes of inheritance; chapter three highlights property exchanges around marriage and the meanings and purposes of wedding exchanges; chapter four explores the various myths invoked by women to explain their attitudes regarding their entitlements and how they negotiate demands for family property; and chapter five evaluates the relationship of women's view of the law with the myths of wealth to offer a picture of the socio-cultural transformation of resource control by women. Chapter six inverts our focus from women to the ways in which entitlements are represented in legal texts to how prevalent myths encode women's entitlements to property within legal judgments. Basu also examines the dowry as a contribution to the clothes and jewelry of the bride as well as the consumption interests of the in-laws and concludes: "Despite exceptional cases of women receiving family property and subtle negotiations by women to retain natal ties, patriarchal principles of inheritance remain both ubiquitous and markedly stable in India" (157).

Both the strategy that Basu employs and the insights she offers are attentive to social class and the spatiality of Delhi City, India as a complex field of economic, social, ethnic, and cultural diversity. She is attentive to the diverse and divergent meanings that control of property may have for members of the three Delhi communities that comprise her sample: differences between rural and urban property ownership, variances between ownership and rights of occupancy (critical for understanding the economic security of widows), and the distinction between de facto and de jure "heads" of joint families. Thus, she asks: "How do cultural factors affect the outcome of laws intended to bring about social reform?" (11). This animating question situates the law within the context of its paradoxical meanings for different members of the nation, and as a series of relations that depend upon kin-based constructions of justice, security, and entitlements. Property rights, in other words, are as much about intense cultural contestation as they are about the economic control of production and social resources.

The studies by Menon and Bhasin, Borders & Boundaries: Women in India's Partition, and Butalia...


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