She Comes to Take Her Rights

Indian Women, Property, and Propriety

By Srimati Basu

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies
Paperback : 9780791440964, 305 pages, February 1999
Hardcover : 9780791440957, 305 pages, February 1999

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

List of Tables


1 Women, Law, and Property in India

Women and Property

The Power of Law on Women and in the "New" Nations

Nominating Agents, Marking Resistance

Camouflaging the Self: Methodological Choices and Other Fieldwork Angst

The Three Delhi Neighborhoods

Looking Ahead

2 Women and Property Inheritance:

Scant and Slippery Footholds

Property Values

The Significance of Class and Residence

Women As Property Owners

Property Distribution and Marital Status

Relative Wealth

Non-Hindu Women and Property

Blocking Women's Inheritance

"Hishabey to Ami Pai" ("Well, I Get It According to the Calculations"): Shipra's Family Property

Conclusion: Stable Systems of Disentitlement

3 Gifts for Alliance: Marriage and the Flow of Goods

Setting Up Matches: Gifts for "Alliances" Only

Wedding Ceremonies: The Framework for Gifts

"Jo dena hota hai" ("What Has to Be Given"): The Nature and Parity of Wedding Gifts

"Ladkiwale ko to dena hi parta hai" ("The Woman's Side Does Have to Give Things, of Course"): Issues of Dowry and Demand

Paying for Weddings

Protima's Life: The Instability of Marriage

Conclusion: Marriage and the Transfer of Wealth

4 "Wo Ayee Hak Lene" ("There She Comes, to Take Her Rights"): The Dreadful Specter of the Property-Owning Woman

Multilayered Attitudes toward Natal Property and Women's Property

Equal Love: Conceptions of Equitable Distribution

"Naihar Tut Hi Jaye" ("The Natal Home Is Broken for Me"): Fears of Natal Abandonment

Property over Time: Dowry and Long-Term Help in Relation to Property

Surrogate Sons: Brotherless Women Inherit Property

Property as Payoff: Eldercare and Other Family Responsibilities

Medha's Case: Complex Negotiations

Conclusion: Multiple Positions, Optimal Compromises

5 Knowing Themselves:

Women's Attitudes toward Wealth and Well-Being

Reconceptualizing Stridhan (Women's Wealth)

Crucial Problems, Imagined Solutions

The Shadow of the Legal Realm

Conclusion: The Limits of Critical Analysis

6 Protecting Property:

Gendered Identity in the Indian Higher Courts

Mise-en-scène: The Legislative Construction of Women's Property Rights

Patterns of Authority

Different Spaces for Daughters, Sons, and Wives

Defining Religion, Faith, and Custom

Conclusion: "Spoilt Darlings" and "Patient Packhorses"?

7 Conclusion: Property and Propriety

Appendix A

Appendix B




Examines the contemporary workings of property law in India through the lives and thoughts of middle-class and poor women.


Using the contemporary workings of property law in India through the lives and thoughts of middle-class and poor women, this is a study of the ways in which cultural practices, and particularly notions of gender ideology, guide the workings of law. It urges a close reading of decisions by women that appear to be contrary to material interests and that reinforce patriarchal ideologies.

Hailed as a radical moment for gender equality, the Hindu Succession Act was passed in India in 1956 theoretically giving Hindu women the right to equal inheritance of their parents' self-acquired property. However, in the years since the act's existence, its provisions have scarcely been utilized. Using interview data drawn from middle-class and poor neighborhoods in Delhi, this book explores the complexity of women's decisions with regard to family property in this context. The book shows that it is not passivity, ignorance of the law, naiveté about wealth, or unthinking adherence to gender prescriptions that guides women's decisions, but rather an intricate negotiation of kinship and an optimization of socioeconomic and emotional needs. An examination of recent legal cases also reveals that the formal legal realm can be hospitable to women's rights-based claims, but judgments are still coded in terms of customary provisions despite legal criteria to the contrary.

Srimati Basu is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Depauw University.


"Basu's research offers a persuasive argument that it is not passivity or ignorance that restricts women's enjoyment of property ownership, but a conscious negotiation of familial relationships and bonds to build social capital and ensure immediate and long–term emotional and material security. " — Feminist Collections

"Our view of India is filled with images of downtrodden women in various guises: women burned to death over dowry, women immolated on their husbands' funeral pyres, women committing female infanticide, women who are poor, illiterate, exploited. In Western discourse about India, Indian women are constructed as helpless victims and in the process Indian society and culture is constituted as less than modern. We need to understand the lives of Indian women because the repetition of the atrocity stories tell us very little about what is happening, why it is happening, and what is changing or likely to change. Basu's decision to focus on women and property and ask the 'why' question makes this a very important book. " — Geraldine Forbes, State University of New York, Oswego