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Gender, Kinship and Rural Work in Colonial Punjab Michelle Maskiell* For history records the patterns of men's lives, they say.... But not quite, for actually it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down___What did they ever think of us transitory ones?... birds of passage who were too obscure for learned classification, too silent for the most sensitive recorders of sound. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man Gender, "the social organization of sexual difference," played a vital role in Punjabi social identities, although one we are far from understanding completely.1 If, as Joan Scott suggested, sexual difference is a key variable of social organization that must be explained, how can we understand "the multiple and contradictory meaning attributed to sexual difference" in rural Punjab?2 What did gender difference mean for Punjabi women and men during the colonial period (1849 to 1947)? How did gender and kinship interrelate? How were they relevant for the daily work of village life? Rural Punjab in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an agricultural society constituted by many dispersed villages, often quite distinct in size and social composition. But in all South Asian villages, according to David Ludden, four types of social networks—kinship, religion, the state, and the market—shaped the rural world. "The four networks are woven together so tightly that change in one necessarily involves the others; all pervade social order and processes of change in Eurasian peasant societies during the millennium after 900."3 Genderspecific ideals, prejudices, norms, and behavior marked these networks as dye permeates cloth fibers, making the study of social networks colorless without their consideration. I will concentrate on two of these networks, kinship and the state, while recognizing that the analysis remains preliminary until religion and the market are more fully integrated. While kinship, religion, the state, and market interactions all penetrated Punjabi ways of life, the mix differed among Punjabi social groups, as did the meaning of gender. © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 2 No, ι (Spring)___________________ * I would like to thank Billy G. Smith and David Gilmartin for reading an earlier draft of this article and making many helpful suggestions. Peg Strobel also contributed to its final form. 36 Journal of Women's History Spring This article argues that colonial rule established a new relationship between the state and kinship that changed the politics of gender both within the family and within the economy of Punjab. Officials in the colonial government, often called the British Raj, attributed kinship and gender behavior to the amorphous category of "tradition" or "custom" and treated the social construction of gender ahistorically.4 This article demonstrates that, to the contrary, kinship ideology was appropriated by the colonial state immediately after Punjab was annexed to express the government's explicitly paternal relationship to the people.5 Kinship had a special meaning for ordering economic relationships under the Raj, as kinship ideology became the signifier of the power relationship between the colonial state and Punjabi society. Employing gender as a primary category of analysis in colonial history parallels the continuing project to use subaltern consciousness to replace the British imperial will as the focus of South Asian historiography. However , the approaches differ in two significant ways. Defining "subaltern" as "of inferior rank," Ranajit Guha used the term to indicate "the general attribute of subordination in South Asian society whether... expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way."6 But the marxist unde^innings of subaltern studies have led many scholars to emphasize class rather than gender issues, even when the latter play a prominent role in their own research findings.7 Moreover, scholars sometimes have continued the misleading distinction between public (political and economic events) and private (kin events). Women and men in rural Punjab worked in a society where economic and familial relations were inextricably intertwined; too fine of a dividing line between public and private, thus, disregards much of the complex social fabric.8 This article focuses on one aspect of patriarchy, men's control of women's labor power. Patriarchal societies are characterized...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 35-72
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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