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Accepted Paper:

Dowry, conjugal precarity and the social production of evidence among urban poor in Delhi  
Emilija Zabiliute (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines dowry giving as a practice of evidence production among urban poor in Delhi, India. I argue that dowry not only establishes and reconstitutes kinship links, but also anticipates and pre-empts dissolutions, gendered inequalities and violence, inherent in kinship relationships.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines dowry giving as a practice of evidence production among urban poor in Delhi, India. Despite dowries being illegal in India’s judicial system, urban poor families produce evidence of dowry payments as they create their family archives. Early anthropologists have explored how dowries constitute an essential practice in South Asian hypergamous marriage alliances where brides marry higher status families. More recently, practice of dowry giving and taking as a social practice that establishes kin connections in India has become reconfigured and fortified by economic and social transformations, such as capitalist consumer culture, globalisation, migration, changes in labour market and education (Osella and Osella 2000; Wright 2020; Xiang 2005). In this paper I argue that dowry not only establishes and reconstitutes the tenacity of kinship links, but also anticipates and pre-empts dissolutions, abandonment, gendered inequalities and violence, inherent in kinship relationships. By producing dowry evidence, families directly engage with the discourses around social change in gendered social relationships and seek to prepare for marriage contingencies and gendered kinship precarity. While historically, dowry practice developed in the context of social change brought upon by colonialism, it is now widely accepted and desired. Despite this, urban poor see dowry as a sign of Kaliyug - a social decline period in Hindu circular time cosmology, characterised by the rise of kin precarity and violence, dowry inflation and greed. Marriage arrangements then become a loci where public discourses about gendered violence intersect with intimate relationships and kin futures.

Panel P025a
The Hope of Marriage: Transforming Intimate Worlds and Social Futures I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -