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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Female Infanticide and Colonialism

Well, so there is a must read article in the Economic and Political Weekly about Female Infanticide and Gender in Punjab: Imperial Claims and Contemporary Discourse. The article suggests that colonial policies might have accentuated gender differences in Punjab. Going back to Edward's post. Tim Dyson writes in his paper on Indian fertility rates, " [F]or present purposes it will suffice to say that northern society tends to place greater stress upon the male line." Hmm...

The greater stress on males in northern society, might have something to do with colonial policy. For example, among the issues Veena Talwar Oldenburg explores in her book, Dowry Murder: The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime is the effects of British policy of recruiting "martial races" for the British Indian army. Oldenburg writes:

The British generated new job opportunities for 'martial races' towards defence and development. All this and the effects of recruiting in British Indian Army from the ranks of Punjabi peasants, particularly the land tilling jats, generated a demand for strong young men who would be employed with a cash wage, awards of land and eventually pensions led to a preference for a 'gender targeted family' and in these days it could only be done through selective female infanticide [Oldenburg 2003:15]

This is not to say that things in Punjab were hunky dory before the Anglo-Sikh wars. Female infanticide was practised before the British arrived particularly among the high castes. The British identified the high caste khatris, bedis and rajputs as primarily responsible for infanticide in pre-colonial India.

I haven't read Oldenburg's book but am about too.

But what article reminded me off was a very good essay on Nirad Choudhary by Ian Buruma in his collection, The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West. (its also a must read) Buruma writes:

So there was [Nirad] Chaudhuri, lover of Mozart, Pascal, Burke, Wordsworth and Dante, ruled by Englishman whose intellectual tastes were adequately served by Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads. Their fantasy of Englishness did not inclde the literary Bengali babu, for whom they felt contempt and distrust. More congenial to the British New Imperialists were the brave and philistine warriors of the northern frontiers, Muslims whose tribal pride mirrored the 'muscular Christianity' of the British....

Ian Buruma understates the extent to which both 'literary Begali babu' and 'brave and philistine warriors' were constructs. Nevertheless its an interesting thought...

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