‘For how long can your pīharwāle intervene?’: Accessing natal kin support in rural North India

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Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in rural Uttar Pradesh, this article contributes to debates on married women's relations with their natal kin. It compares women in ‘regional’ marriages (which conform to caste and community norms with a relatively small marriage distance) with women in ‘cross-regional’ marriages (those that cross caste, linguistic, and state boundaries, and entail long-distance migration). A focus on cross-regional marriage demonstrates how geographic distance cuts women off from vital structures of support. At the same time, even for regional brides, natal kin support is complicated and relative proximity does not guarantee support. Factors such as caste, class, poverty, the gender of children, notions of honour and shame, and stage in the life-course work together in complex ways to determine the duration and kind of support available. By focusing on marital violence, marital breakdown, and widowhood, the article demonstrates both the presence and the limits of natal kin support. The opportunities to draw on natal kin support vary for women, but its significance must not be understated as it alone provides women with the possibility of leaving their marriages, even if only temporarily. The article focuses on one form of women's agency, one that is constrained and highly dependent on relationships with others (mainly male kin). In such a context of economic and social dependency, natal kin support is an important—and perhaps the only—resource available in situations of marital crisis, and its absence leaves women in a particularly vulnerable position.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1613-1645
Number of pages33
JournalModern Asian Studies
Volume53
Issue number5
Early online date6 May 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

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