Front Cover
 Title Page

Group Title: Working paper Women in International Development, Michigan State University
Title: Caste, class, and gender
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00089843/00001
 Material Information
Title: Caste, class, and gender women's role in agricultural production in North India
Series Title: Working paper Women in International Development, Michigan State University
Physical Description: 38 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Sharma, Miriam, 1941-
Michigan State University -- Office of Women in International Development
Publisher: Office of Women in International Development, Michigan State University
Office of Women in International Development, Michigan State University
Place of Publication: East Lansing
Publication Date: c1984
Subject: Women in agriculture -- India   ( lcsh )
Women -- Social conditions -- India   ( lcsh )
Economic conditions -- India -- 1947-   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: India
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 34-38.
Statement of Responsibility: by Miriam Sharma.
General Note: "July 1984."
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00089843
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 13114521

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
Full Text




Miriam Sharma
University of Hawaii
Working Paper #57
July 1984



li /





Miriam Sharma
University of Hawaii

Working Paper #57

July 1984

it the Author: Miriam Sharma (Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Hawaii)
y political economist who has undertaken postgraduate studies in the
limics Department of the New School for Social Research, New York. She
Assistant Professor in the Honors Program and the assistant to the
ictor of Liberal Studies at the University of Hawaii. Her major research
iests are Third World Development, agrarian class formation (with an
is on South Asia), and international labor migrations. Among her
publications are: The Politics of Inequality (University of Hawaii
iand articles on labor migration from the Philippines in Amerasia and
Ebor Migration Under Capitalism: Asian Immigrant Workers in the U.S.
I' W.W. II, Leds. Lucie C. Hirata and Edna Bonacich, University of
9rnima Press, 1984].

Abstract: Major changes in the technology and economic organization of
Indian agriculture have had far-reaching effects on other aspects of social
life. A critical but neglected area has been the effect that the changing
technology and accompanying social relations of production have had on
women's role in agricultural production and on gender relations. Since the
publication of Boserup's Woman's Role in Economic Development (1970), there
has been a concern with critically assessing the effects of economic
development and social change on female status. One of Boserup's main
contributions was to begin to delineate the negative effects that
colonialism and the penetration of capitalism into subsistence economies has
had on women. The major objective of this paper is to undertake a review of
what has been learned thus far about class and gender formation and apply it
to an analysis of women in India. Preliminary work analyzing statistical
trends affecting the lives of Indian women under capitalist development
reveals: a declining adverse sex ratio; a declining proportion of women in
industrial categories; a drastic decline of women in secondary sectors
(industry, trade, and commerce); a decline in the number of female
cultivators; and a lower rate of proletarianization (i.e., absorption into
the work force) for women than for men and, hence, greater pauperization.
This paper concretizes the general view by focusing on research carried out
in a single village. It was found that female participation in production
activities mirrored caste and class position. Further, this differential
participation by the two main castes-cum-classes of rural women directly
affects, and is intimately related to, other aspects of their lives. The
paper also discusses some of the major contradictions for women's status
stemming from the transformation of agrarian relations.

Copyright 1984, MSU Board of Trustees


Introduction: The Nature of the Beast

The "great leap forward" in basic grain production--specifically wheat
and rice--throughout the Third World is a phenomenon characteristic of only
the past two decades. Initially spawned in the boardrooms of the
Rockefeller Foundation during the Cold War of the fifties,2 these
agricultural programs were the "Free World's" answer to the menacing Red
East which threatened to find fertile ground for its communistic ideology
among the starving millions of Asia and Africa. The role of American
agribusiness concerns in directing the course of social and economic
development in the Third World was blessed by the United States government.
The big push to send our experts to develop the underdeveloped occurred in
1965, the year that marked the beginning of a major turnaround in United
States aid for the capitalist Third World. There were to be no more free
handouts of United States surpluses (otherwise stored in the giant relics of
World War II battleships, to be dumped at some future date). "Future
deliveries," as Cleaver notes, "were made dependent upon the satisfaction of
a number of conditions by the receiving countries--primarily a shift of
emphasis from industrialization to agricultural development, the expansion
of population control, and an open door to United States investors"

The rapid success of the introduction of new technology, seed,
fertilizer, and other inputs, in conjunction with major changes in the
economic organization of Third World agriculture, led to an enthusiastic
bestowal of the term "Green Revolution." Such enthusiasm, however, has not
been unmitigated. Fears (or hopes) were soon expressed that the increasing
inequalities and class polarities in the countryside that accompanied this
rapid expansion of capitalist relations of production might turn into a "Red
Revolution" (e.g., Olson 1963; Frankel 1971; World Bank 1972; H. Sharma
1973). Another major area of concern became the effect that changing
technology and the accompanying social relations of production have on
women's role in agricultural production and on gender relations.

Boserup's pioneer work on Woman's Role in Economic Development (1970)
was the first to draw attention to what has subsequently been a repetitively
corroborated fact--i.e., economic development adversely affects an already
subordinated female population (e.g., Etienne and Leacock 1980; Remy 1975;
Signs 1977, 1981; Rubbo 1975; Mies 1980; U. Sharma 1980; Onvedt 1975, 1978;
cf. Stoler 1977). Boserup documented how colonialism and the penetration of
capitalism into subsistence economies had the effect of decreasing female
participation in production, as well tas women's social status; as
technological productivity increased. At the same time, Boserup was among
the few to note that "subsistence activities usually omitted in the
statistics of production and income are largely women's work" (1970:163).
Women's work continues to be underreported and underestimated, particularly


in the area of domestic production, despite efforts made to include -
subsistence work in statistics of production and labor force participation
in peasant societies (Beneria and Sen 1981:281). The vast amount of unpaid
labor performed by women in the fields of family farms is particularly
ignored and unstudied.3

Recently, there has been an increased concern in the Third World with
the effects on gender relations and women's status of capitalist penetration"
into rural areas and its accompanying rural class differentiation. India
has been largely bypassed in this area of critical research and yet presents'
an ideal case study in many respects. It has had a long history of colonial
rule and capitalist penetration. Social relations of production in the
agricultural sector began to be transformed more rapidly by India's early
adoption of "Green Revolution" technology.4 In 1965, the Government of"i
India and the Ford Foundation launched the Intensive Agricultural ;
Development Program which would bring the new technology and high-yielding
grain varieties to some of the most favored districts in the country.5- .i
The introduction of capital-intensive technologies and its effect of
increasing class polarization have been the subject of a number of recent
studies (Byres 1972, 1981; Frankel 1971, 1978; Breman 1974, 1977;
Tharamangalam 1980; M. Sharma 1978). Increasing differentiation of theJ
peasantry among various classes of landholders, tenants, landless laborers, :1'
subsistence artisans, those engaged in household industries, peddlers, and
urban-living wage earners has also occurred (Mies 1980:3). Both class
differentiation and polarization are taking place under the impact of ai
growing commercialization of agriculture, a rise in productivity and'
agricultural prices, an increase in cash-cropping, and the introduction ofi;
new technology. All of this has strengthened the economic position of '
richer classes in the countryside. They have benefitted most from
government expenditures and rural development projects, and they largely 'q
dominate the local credit institutions. An accompanying trend toward the f
concentration of landholdings and increasing proletarianization and
pauperization of those displaced from the "development" process has also 0
been documented (Alexander 1973; Das 1975; Desai 1979). Over and beyond all
this is the interplay of the material realities of caste and its ideological
dynamics in the process of class formation. To a large extent, caste and
class affiliations still overlap in village India. Large landholders who
employ hired labor are overwhelmingly from the upper castes, while the
agricultural workers themselves come from the ranks of the lowest--pre-
dominantly Untouchable--castes. Peasant proprietors using household labor
are from the ranks of the middle agricultural castes. Distribution of other ;
resources and access to political control follow the same broad pattern of
caste-cum-class distinctions (see further, M. Sharma 1978).

Despite all this research, however, the critical effects of capitalist
accumulation on class formation and changes in gender relations in the rural
areas have been ignored. This paper is a preliminary attempt to analyze the
effects of changing class and gender relations in agriculture by focusing on
the lives of women in a specific village in North India. Fieldwork in



Arunpur village,6 located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, reveals
that female status and participation in production cannot be understood
without paying close attention to the ways in which they vary according to
caste and class position. The contradictory position of rural women grows
out of the nature of the sexual division of labor and their subordinate
position at different levels of intersection between class and gender. This
contradiction is between the domestic "seclusion" and total dependence of
highly-controlled upper caste women from landed households and the active
participation in production and greater socio-economic independence of low
caste women from landless agricultural households. Between are the women of
intermediate castes representing peasant cultivators who work side by side
with men on family farms. The wage labor available to rural women is
scarcely liberating and the main goal of agricultural workers (male and
female alike) is to become affluent enough that women may withdraw from the
fields and go into seclusion. Following a section on the framework for the
analysis employed here, the remainder of this paper will consider the
interrelation of class formation and gender relations in rural North India.
A concluding section brings out the major contradictions that affect these

production and Reproduction in a Peasant Economy

The processes of accumulation involved in the extension of capitalist
relations of production in the countryside have had differing effects on
women of different classes. Implicit in this idea of "development" is the
"uneven" nature of the process--affecting individuals, sectors, regions, and
nations at uneven rates. This is unlike the view, maintained by Boserup
(1970) for example, that "modernization" is both beneficial and inevitable
in the specific form of capitalist development that" it has taken in most
Third World countries. Contributions to a growing critical literature on
the process of capitalist accumulation highlight how women's loss of status
results from the interweaving of class relations in production and gender
relations in reproduction and from the changes in women's work and in the
forms of their subordination. The single most powerful tendency of capital
accumulation is

to separate direct producers from the means of production such
as land, and to make their conditions of survival more insecure
and contingent. This tendency manifests itself in new forms of
class stratification in rural areas, e.g., between rich peasants
or capitalist farmers on the one hand, and poor peasants and
landless laborers on the other. Such a process can have a
variety of effects on women's work depending on the specific
form that accumulation takes in a particular region (Beneria and
Sen 1981:288).

After summarizing a number of specific ways in which the
structure of production associated with Third World capitalism affects
women's status, Beneria and Sen conclude:

...[capitalism] is not a neutral process of modernization but one
that obeys the dictates of capitalist accumulation and profit-
making. Contrary to what Boserup implies, the problem for women
is not only the lack of participation in this process as equal
partners with men; it is a system which generates and intensifies
inequalities and makes use of existing gender hierarchies in such
a way that women are placed in subordinate positions at the
different levels of interaction between class and gender"

If, then, the sphere of production can make use of preexisting gender
hierarchies (as well, in fact, as be influenced by them, e.g., Mies
1980:8-9), what is needed is a complementary analysis of those relations
that both generate and condition the dynamics of gender systems. The
concept of reproduction is used to distinguish gender relations from those
of class and extends a Marxist analysis to feminist issues--considering the
household and family as the locus. An excellent starting point for any
study of the interaction of class and gender is the perceptive observation
of Marx that the maintenance and reproduction of the working class is a
"necessary condition to the reproduction of capital" (1967:572). Engels
also viewed the production of the means of subsistence and the reproduction
of human beings as two fundamental human activities.

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor
in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction
of immediate life. But this itself is of a twofold character. On
the one hand, the production of the means of subsistence, of food,
clothing and shelter and the tools requisite therefore; on the
other, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation
of the species. The social institutions under which men of a
definite historical epoch and of a definite country live are
conditioned by both kinds of production (Engels 1977:5-6, my

Although they recognized the critical importance of the maintenance and
reproduction of the working class--necessary to the reproduction of
capital--neither Marx nor Engels extended their analyses to investigate the
process within the household. Marx, like the capitalist, thought he "may
safely leave its fulfillment to the labourer's instincts of self-
preservation and of propagation" (1967:572). Both Marx and Engels
mistakenly tied women's oppression to the rise of private property under
capitalism. Their emphasis on the relationship between private property and
the growth of the family emphasizes the family as a bourgeois institution
for the concentration of wealth. This diverts attention from the nature of
the working class family (see further, Humphries 1977). They also failed to
see that a transformation of productive structures alone would not
automatically do away with that oppression as the examples of women in
China, Cuba, and the Soviet Union today demonstrate. The moment of
oppression of women is not to be located in the development of private
property, but in the patriarchal relations preceding capitalism. The

Traditional focus placed on the sphere of commodity production and women's
role in the class system generated by capitalist production is not--on its
own--sufficient to analyze women's work and status in society. It must be
complemented by an analysis of how reproduction, as a determinant of roles,
the sexual division of domestic labor, patriarchal relations, and
stereotypes in the socialization of the sexes, carries over into the
productive sphere. The focal point of reproduction is the household and it
is the social relations among household members that defines the "woman
problem" and determines women's role in development (Beneria and Sen

In precapitalist subsistence economies, most work was done within the
family unit. The sexual division of labor usually relegates childcare, food
processing, and household maintenance (cleaning, sewing, washing), as well
as childbirth, to the sphere of women. The household is the basic unit of
production in a peasant economy and develops an internal division of labor
based on age as well as gender. It is the physical focus of both production
and reproduction tasks (i.e., consumption and childrearing); both of these
are interwoven in the household's work and time rhythms (Sen 1980:81-82).
Capitalist production brings critical changes to the nature of the household
unit. Work is divided into "public, socialized work and work that remained
in the family. The more development takes place, the more work that used to
be done in the family is brought into wage labor" (Tepperman 1981:8), and
the more women are removed from their public role in production. This does
not mean, however, that housework has become unimportant economically.

The wage labor system, as Marx and Engels noted, is sustained by this
very socially necessary but private (i.e., domestic) labor of housewives,
mothers, and daughters in childbearing, rearing, cleaning, cooking, washing
clothes, mending, maintenance of property, food preparation, daily health
care, etc. This perpetual cycle of labor is necessary to maintain and
perpetuate the workforce. In this sense it is an integral part of the
economy. The direct consumption of commodities purchased with wages takes
place within the household, yet the inputs used for domestic production are
not all bought on the market; some, like wood and vegetables, may be
gathered by women. These inputs are then transformed into "use-values" (via
food processing, cooking, etc.) by women for consumption in the home. Both
types of consumption serve to reproduce the commodity labor power (Humphries
1977:42; Beneria and Sen 1981:292).

Yet the basic economic aspect of the family is obscured and it comes to
be regarded as "unproductive" (not participating in wage labor). The
domestic labor of women thus becomes "unproductive" as well. As the family
increasingly becomes isolated from "paid, productive, wage labor," women are
cut off from men in a drastic new way that gives new meaning to male
supremacy within partiarchy. Domestic labor is devalued through its
isolation from the production activities of wage labor (Zaretsky 1976:23ff;
Middleton 1981).


Beneria and Sen astutely note, however, that the separation between the
tasks involved in production and reproduction is often artificial, as when a
woman carries her baby with her while working on the farm. Domestic work is
also an integral part of the labor process, as when meals cooked at home are
transported to the fields. Further, the agricultural process itself extends
into household production when, for example, cereals are dried and
agricultural goods processed before being ready for family consumption
(Beneria and Sen 1981:292).

The dialectical interrelation of women's roles in reproduction and
production is well illustrated by an examination of gender relations in
rural India at the interstices of relations between classes. While studies
of rural India universally still view the peasant as a male, those on women
among the peasantry portray them as a homogenous group. Even when the
existence of different classes is acknowledged, scant attention is paid to
the ramifications of such differentiation (e.g., U. Sharma 1980; Jacobson
1976-1977; 1977). The remainder of this paper explores how production,
reproduction, and the sexual division of labor converge on defining gender
as a social category for rural women. Basic information was acquired by
fieldwork in a north Indian village and augmented by residence in other
villages and readings on the subject. Although at the time my major
interest was not the. study of women, I ultimately did spend most of my time
with females because of the highly sex-segregated society of rural North
India. I was struck with the great differences in the status of women from
different classes and castes, their relationship to agricultural production,
and its concomittant socio-cultural manifestations. It was from this
experience that my present interests arose.

Caste, Class, and Gender in Rural.North India

India's female population is one of the largest in the world and over
8C% are in the rural sector, engaged mostly in subsistence production.
Their participation in the rural economy varies widely depending on the
specific form of production (hunting/gathering, slash and burn agriculture,
or settled plough agriculture) as well as associated caste and class
positions. Preliminary work analyzing general statistical trends affecting
the lives of Indian women under capitalist development reveals a disturbing
picture.9 Mies presents information showing that the proportion of women
to men has been declining steadily since the beginning of the century. This
same period coincides with increasing penetration of capitalist economic and
social relations into the countryside, and Mies makes an effective argument
for the correlation of the two phenomena. The Punjab and Tamilnadu, both
areas of high productivity successes, show very low and steadily declining
sex ratios respectively; whereas Kerala, an exceedingly poor Communist
state, shows stable, high sex ratio (Table 1). The disproportionate sex
ratio is also associated with differential health care and nutrition and a
higher infant mortality rate for females (Mies 1980; see also Miller 1980).
Hand in hand with the declining sex ratio is the declining proportion of
women in all broad industrial categories. This decline is most marked in
secondary sectors (trade, industry, and commerce) (Tables 2 and 3). Of the

12% of the total female population recognized as "workers," almost all were
in the rural sector by 1971 (see also, Table 4). Thus, while the total
percentage of women in the workforce decreased between 1911 and 1971 (from
34% of the workforce to 17%), the proportion of women in the workforce who
are engaged in agriculture has increased (from 74% to 80%).10

For women in the agricultural sector, the picture is not particularly
heartening. Statistics often present contradictory numbers (e.g., Tables 5
and 6), but lead to a uniform conclusion: women are losing control over
land as a means of production and being squeezed out of agricultural
subsistence activities, i.e., they are gradually becoming pauperized. The
data in Table 6 indicate that while the number of female cultivators dropped
by 52% between 1961 and 1971, the number of male cultivators increased by
6%. In the same period both men and women were pushed from the status of
poor peasants into dependence on wage labor as their major source of income,
but the number of male agricultural laborers increased by more than double
the rate for women. Female labor, therefore, is not being absorbed into
employment and proletarianized as fast as male labor. The number of women
listed as non-workers also rose more quickly than the number of men so
categorized; they were pushed out of even agricultural work into extremely
casual unskilled labor that is not even noted in statistics. Capitalist
relations of production have adversely affected large numbers of rural men,
but its effects have been even worse for rural women. As a group, rural
women are heading toward greater impoverishment with the burden falling
heaviest on poor women who are getting poorer.

Statistics alone, however, do not reveal the specific ways in which real
individuals are affected. The generalized all-India view of the declining
status of women must be concretized by actual case-studies. My own research
was conducted in the village of Arunpur, eight miles from the city of
Banaras in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Arunpur is located in the
Bhojpuri region, stretching from eastern Uttar Pradesh through western
Bihar, where a dialect of Hindi and the presence of certain caste groups and
customs are common to all. The region is one of the most densely populated
in India and is considered economically and socially backward. Arunpur's
population of 1,047 is divided into sixteen castes.11 The numerically
large and dominant landowning caste of Bhumihars represents 27% of the
population (see Table 7). The village also has an almost equal number of
landless Untouchable Chamars, traditionally leatherworkers, who provide the
Bhumihars (and other castes) with cheap agricultural labor. Two other main
caste groups are the Brahmans, who represent 4.6% of the population, and the
Kurmis. The Kurmis are an intermediate caste of small peasant-proprietors,
representing 18.7% of the village inhabitants. They hire little labor and
all family members work in the fields.

With the abolition of landlordship (zamindari) in Uttar Pradesh in 1950,
those who had been occupancy-tenants, for the most part those who now have
land in Arunpur, became "owners" of the land.12 Kurmis complain that they
have not been able to increase their holdings since the abolition of
zamindari. When land comes on the market is is "grabbed up by the


Bhumihars. It is they who gained the most" (Table 8). Ironically, Chamars
lost the most by the abolition of zamindari. The land that they leased (c.
12.5 acres) is no longer available. It passed into the hands of Kurmis,
Bhumihars, and others by fraudulent means. Today practically all Chamars
are landless. By losing their land and relinquishing their traditional
occupation as removers of dead animals and leatherworkers, they have become
totally dependent upon upper caste Bhumihars and Brahmans for whom they work
as ploughmen and laborers. All households of the latter two castes have at
least one Chamar ploughman, for in Arunpur--as elsewhere in the
region--8humihars and Brahmans feel it beneath their dignity and prestige to
touch the plough.13 As part of their wage the laborers receive the use of
plots of land belonging to their employers. To prevent any legal tangles
whereby the tiller may eventually claim the land he works as his own, the
plot is often changed each year. This system of rotating the allotted plots
is so flexible that it escapes the law, and laborers are reluctant to
complain for fear of losing their jobs and the use of land. There is no
shortage of labor in Arunpur, and, theoretically, one pair of hands can
easily replace another. But such replacement is difficult, if not
impossible. The credit that a laborer obtains from the landowner tends to
bind them together permanently, and the debts of the father are inherited by
his sons. Such debts accumulate at an annual interest rate of 20 to 36
percent so that repayment at the very low "wage" becomes impossible (see M.
Sharma 1978:166ff for wages and conditions of labor).

Class formation in Arunpur, indicated by ownership and control of the
major means of production in rural India--land (Table 9)--is mirrored in the
distribution of other forms of wealth and resources. These include access
to cash income, occupational mobility, incidence of debt, ownership of
agricultural implements and livestock, irrigation facilities (including
wells), size and type of house, and education. Land and other forms of
wealth are highly concentrated in the hands of the Bhumihars and the gulf
between them and the Untouchables is enormous. The Bhumihars also control
the political arena of the village, linking their dependents and people of
other castes to themselves by vertical ties of factionalism. Non-Bhumihars
are effectively excluded from the exercise of power and control.

The horizontal cleavage among castes that are competing for power and
valued resources in the village has many of the characteristics of class
conflict but has thus far not become separate from caste status. Bhumihars
all unite on any occasion of conflict with their laborers, the landless
Chamars. Each of these groups is united by the consciousness of a common
economic position in relation to the means of production, as well as by the
knowledge that they either enjoy or are denied the authority to exercise
power. The existence of a separate "caste culture" or lifestyle for each
group further widens the gap between them. Because of the completely
dominant position of the Bhumihars, Arunpur is still a closed society.
Status, wealth, and power by and large all accrue to this caste. To an
overwhelming extent, caste and class overlap and remain congruent with one
another for rural India (see Beteille 1965).


Two main factors that cut across caste lines in the village, serve to
inhibit the growth of class feelings. First, the traditional sense of the
deep status differentiation marking off all castes from the Untouchables
still remains. No matter in what situation of misery one may live, to be
above the Untouchables is some consolation in itself. This consolation
would be lost if castes low on the hierarchy joined hands with the lowest of
the low. Such an identification is also inadmissable as long as one
believes in the divine ordering of the hierarchy. Second, the closed
village society is opening up so that wealth (via education, new jobs, and
the availability of some land on the market) and power (through elections)
are becoming somewhat more dispersed throughout the population. The people
who now have the technical opportunity, if not always the actual chance, to
compete with the Bhumihars for these resources are the lower Touchable
castes. Because they now see a way to gain for themselves access to valued
commodities, these castes have chosen to stand against Chamar aspirations.
It is rarely possible for them to prevent the Bhumihars from taking a large
share, but it must make no sense to the lower castes to divide things even
further by adding the Chamars (Untouchables) to the field of competition.
The ability to participate in a monetized economy means, for some castes, a
greater chance to separate caste from class or landownership.

At the same time, the uneveness of the extension of capitalist relations
into the countryside and -the variation in the extent to which individuals
(via household membership) participate in the growing market economy, have
also served to exacerbate the differentiation and polarization among the
peasantry. Only five Bhumihars, all heads of large joint-family households
and leading political figures in Arunpur, may be called capitalist
"farmers." All have achieved wealth by making agriculture a profitable
venture and in some cases by involvement in outside business as well.
Although all still employ bullock-drawn ploughs, they use many of the "Green
Revolution" inputs and are innovative in accepting new seeds, machines, and
other changes that will increase their productive output. They all produce
a marketable surplus and their access to cash has enabled them to make
further purchases of land, not hesitating to use force or fraud when
necessary. They have fully accepted material betterment as one of the
ideals (if not the major one) in their lives. Thus, the impact of the
"Green Revolution" has had the effect of increasing differentiation within
this landowning caste of Bhumihars as well as increasing differentiation
among castes.

The class position of peasants has an immediate effect on the size and
composition of the household as well as on the nature of women's work. For
the most part, the socialization of all female children follows fairly rigid
sex stereotypes (see, e.g., Jacobson 1977:25ff), but differences in class
(cum caste) status produce differences in gender roles. What follows
explores several areas of difference in gender roles experienced by women at
the extremes of the class/caste hierarchy: the upper caste Bhumihars and
the Untouchable Chamars. The two groups have different relationships to the
means of production and use of wage labor, and different sexual divisions of
labor. These differences have concomitant effects on the status of women.



The following sections consider: a) the nature of the household; b) marital
patterns; c) domestic work; d) participation in agricultural production; e)
control over resources; f) control of reproductive activities and fertility;
and g) stereotypic ideals of Indian woman.

Nature of the Household

The maintenance and reproduction of labor power is a process that takes
place within the household. Arunpur is typical of the rest of India in that
the size and extension (both generational and collateral) of a household is
contingent on its wealth; it is the wealthiest families that maintain joint
households, and it is their common stake in land that keeps them together.
The major advantage is economic; by pooling resources, they can save more
money and consolidate manpower for labor and for use as a pressure group.
Division of property usually occurs at the point after the father's death
when respect for him and his wishes no longer keep the family together.
Property divisions require an equal distribution of all wealth among sons,
regardless of their number of offspring. The resulting nuclear family
households quickly become new joint family households as soon as the sons of
the household head marry. The most prevalent household type among the
landowning Bhumihars in Arunpur is the joint family. The Bhumihar household
average size is 11.1. This number includes those male members who have
migrated to the city for employment, almost always leaving their wives and
children behind in the village. Household size is an important factor in
the political arena where Bhumihars dominate. More often than not,
decisions reached are backed up by the implicit or explicit use of force,
and that is one more reason for maintaining a large household.

Household dissension arising from the inequality of labor and wage
contributions is rife among Bhumihars. Tension and conflict arise
specifically out of the clash of individual personalities within the roles
they are supposed to enact. Quarrels among women are given as a major
reason for the disruption of a joint family. Most often this apparent
"personality" clash is really an expression of a woman's resistance to those
who have control over her.14 These people include, first and foremost,
her mother-in-law, then her elder sister-in-law, her father-in-law (and his
brothers, if living together), her husband, and her husband's elder
brothers. Each of them has a legitimate right to control the actions and
activities of a daughter-in-law.15 A Bhumihar woman remains physically in
seclusion, confined to household chores, and must observe purdah (veiling)
before all males elder to her husband. Newly-wed brides will observe it
even before women from outside their house. Although there are all kinds of
individual differences, adjustments, and exceptions--and although these
restrictions lessen somewhat with age--purdah remains a critical fact of
life for these uppercaste women.

Household relations among the Chamars do not have the formality that
governs those of uppercaste homes, particularly those of the Bhumihars.
Role expectations are much more fluid. Chamars do not practice the custom
of touching the feet of their elders as a sign of respect, which other

w 0


castes do. Every visit we made to the separate Chamar quarter was
accompanied by quite a hullabaloo; the children (boys and girls) were quite
unmanageable ano no one ever succeeded in getting them to quiet cown.
Referring to their behavior, Chamars said: "This is the significance of
caste; see how low caste children are born low, and so there must be
caste." On other occasions, such as talking about the misbehavior of
Bhumihars with Chamar women, we were .told that Chamars deserve to be
Untouchable because they act in such a "low" way.

The average household size among the Chamars is 5 to 8 members.
Although their ideal is the joint family, the majority live in nuclear
family households or in joint family households of only two generations
depth (father and married sons with no children). Because of the
difficulties of remaining together under severe economic pressures and with
no common property to bind them, the Chamars and other Untouchables
partition their households while continuing to live under extremely crowded
conditions in the same house. Wage labor fosters the growth and maintenance
of nuclear family units among the Chamars, and, with nuclear family units,
there are far fewer people who have control over a woman's life.- A young
Chamar brice may assume the practice of covering her face before elders, but
this is discarded after one or two years. Then she can (and must) move
freely through the village and fields, doing her own and others' work. A
Chamar woman may continue to practice this purdah for a longer time in
encounters with higher caste males. It would also appear to be physically
difficult, as well as extremely uncomfortable, to keep purdah under
conditions of great crowding. In one case, four brothers who are
economically independent of one another still share the same small
three-room house. It contains a total of thirty-eight people. Because
Chamars have neither the land nor the money to build new homes, the
situation will grow to impossible proportions by the next generation.

Marital Patterns

Marriages among Bhumihars are arranged by the household head with an eye
to forging critical alliances with other households of their caste. The
wishes of the boy and girl are not primary; they rarely ever even see each
other before betrothal. Among the wealthy Bhumihars, a marriage is also a
symbol of one's worth and status in the community--the more one can give in
a daughter's dowery, the more one may demand for a son. Marriage expenses
at the time of this study ranged from about 2,000 to 15,000 rupees
(l rp. = U.S. .13). Household items and furniture, a radio, a bicycle,
ornaments, ano a watch are usually given or received as part of the
dowery.16 Bhumihars also observe the custom of giving tilak (specific
previously agreed upon gifts to the groom of money, clothes, jewelry,
sweets, and fruit). For a woman is there is no possibility of divorce nor
is widow remarriage permitted. I knew of only one case in which remarriage
was being considered, that of a young girl widowed before consummation of
her marriage.16 A man, on the other hand, is free to divorce his wife,
take a second wife should the first not bear children (regardless of which
partner may be the cause), and is usually encouraged to remarry if his wife
dies leaving small children.


Chamar marriages are also arranged at an early age but can end in
divorce or separation. A common practice among Chamars is for a widow to
live with her husband's younger brother. There was even one instance of a
woman living with her deceased husband's elder brother. This was an illicit
relationship not only because a woman should completely avoid males older
than her husband, but because the elder brother already had a wife and
children. One of the major sources of debt for Untouchables is the
necessity of borrowing cash to pay for expenses incurred for the marriage of
one's daughters. The average amount appears to be about 500 rp. This
covers the bare minimum of a feast for relatives on both sides and the
provision of some combination of pots, a lota,18 large brass trays,
glasses, and a pitcher for the dowery. Rarely Is a bicycle or cash (and
then only 10 rp. to 100 rp.) given. One man recalled having to sell the
pots received at his son's marriage to buy food. The practice of giving or
receiving tilak is not observed by Chamars.

Domestic Work

Village women of all castes spend hours of the day in an endless round
of household chores, rising as early as 5:00 a.m. and retiring as late as
10:00 p.m. None of this, of course, is included in the official statistics,
and 88% of Indian women are gratuitously granted the title of "non-workers"
(Govt. of India 1974:153). Yet, as Jacobson aptly notes, "it can hardly be
imagined what the economic repercussions would be if all of India's female
'non-workers' ceased their endless sifting, churning, cutting, grinding,
cleansing, carrying, and serving" (1976-77:224). Major work includes child
care, food processing and preparation, and care of the household. Raw food
materials must be processed into cooked meals for the household. The most
basic tasks of drying, cleaning and grinding grain and spices, boiling and
churning milk, and making "bread" daily are extremely time-consuming.
Cooking over a single cow dung fire goes on for hours in an unventilated
portion of the house. The youngest bride, often with an infant suckling at
her breast, spends hours squatting before a fire with temperatures that
reach unbelievable heights in the summer. No matter what time men return to
eat, women must wait for them and are the last to eat. The youngest
daughter-in-law (who has worked the hardest) eats last of all. The earthen
oven and kitchen floor must be cleaned and the dishes and pots washed daily
and put away. Other tasks of child care and household care are interwoven
among food preparation activities. Children must be fed, bathed, and nursed
when ill. Water must be drawn and clothes washed, sewn, and mended. Then
there is cow dung to be collected and made into fuel cakes or used to clean
floors and walls of mud houses.

In the large joint households of the Bhumihars, such tasks may be
divided up among a number of women so that the burden, though undoubtedly
falling heaviest on the youngest bride, is somewhat lessened all around. At
times of sickness or emergency, a woman may always find another pair of
(female) hands to take over her chores. Wealthy households may employ the
labor of a young girl or some hapless woman to help in food preparation,
cleaning the utensils, and drawing water from the well. They also enjoy


small conveniences such as a private well or hand pump, kerosene or coal
fire cooker for making tea or snacks, sharp knives, and a large lamp for
cooking at night. These, and other such "luxuries" as an extra hand within
the home or a hired hand from without, are not available to Chamar women.
Because of their involvement in agricultural production and their work as
hired laborers, Chamar women truly carry a double burden.19 This burden
is further increased by the lack of adequate food and consequent ill-health.

Participation in Agricultural Production

Ploughing, involving walking behind a pair of bullocks yoked to a long
wooden, steel-tipped plough, is strictly a male activity, but there is no
agricultural task considered the sole purview of women.20 They are
involved in sowing, transplanting, weeding, irrigating, harvesting,
winnowing, and threshing. In recent years, the introduction of the "Green
Revolution" package of inputs, including machinery, has contributed to
squeezing women out of the new productive agriculture and relegating them to
the more laborious and traditional methods of production. As Boserup notes,
this type of agricultural development increases men's productivity at a
faster pace than that of women (1970:53ff; see also Jacobson
1976-1977:224ff). The Village Level Worker from the Community Development
Office met primarily with the larger Bhumihar farmers who could afford the
new seed and fertilizers and who were given government loans for tubewells,
etc. Built into the system of agricultural development is an upper-class
and male bias that promises to leave women far behind in development schemes.

Bhumihar women, being largely confined to the house, are limited in the
agricultural tasks they may perform. One woman, whose household was small
and suffered from a lack of available male-power, resorted to getting her
water from the neighborhood well only under cover of darkness. The same
woman would go to the Chamar quarter after nightfall to negotiate hiring of
labor as it was needed. Another Bhumihar woman, who lived with her husband
and children, ran the entire farm operation herself. The children were all
little or at school; her husband was a teacher in the local Intercollege.
She was extremely knowledgeable and efficient in all her work. Thus, it is
not that Bhumihar women never perform tasks in production (such as bringing
food to the fields, collecting produce from the fields she needs for the
day's meal, bringing firewood), but that such activities are rare and are
not within the normal expectations. Bhumihar women depend on others (from
the house or hired labor) to perform these tasks.21 Women do, of course,
take part in agricultural production through all the domestic chores of food
processing mentioned above.

Chamar women move about more freely, and their work as daily wage
laborers when work is available puts them in the position of being important
providers. Some women may find work during the planting season, as well as
taking part in occasional tasks of weeding, transplanting, or irrigating.
Others may work on a more regular, parttime basis. For women and men alike,
however, the major income is during the two harvest periods, totaling about
30 to 60 days of work. Curing this time, women, men, and children all work


approximately twelve hours a day (sunrise to sunset) and with about one hour
free for lunch. During the hot season harvest time, the noontime break is
extended another two to three hours and work is often carried on until 10 or
11 p.m. Women and children receive one and a half to two sers (about 1 kg.)
of grain for each day of labor at harvest. Men receive from two to five
sers per day for labor on this seasonal basis at the harvest. Other
specific types of labor that both women and men also engage in are planting
or harvesting potatoes, working with sugar cane, and transplanting padi.22

Chamars must still perform forced labor (begar) in addition to the
various types of work for which they are paid. At times of marriages or
other ceremonies in a Bhumihar's house, or during the six months of the year
when the Bhumihar does not employ a ploughman, Chamars and their family
members may be called upon to work. They must perform begar whether they
wish to or not. Usually food, and occasionally some money, is given.
Chamar women also still perform their traditional role as mid-wives.
Because this is considered polluting and the remuneration given is quite
small, they were talking of giving up this service.

Both Chamar men and women say that their ideal is to have their women in
purdah. At least when it comes from women, this should be understood as a
desire- for greater economic prosperity, a sign of which is a family's
ability to keep a woman's services in the home, and not as an expression of
the women's desire to relinquish their independence. There would appear to
be a direct relationship between the very early age of formal marriage for
Chamar girls, although they remain in their natal homes somewhat longer than
Bhumihar girls, and their inability to practice purdah. A Chamar told me:

We marry off our daughter so young [eight to ten years old] to
save our prestige. If they don't work, they don't eat. And if
they do work and they are free, not in purdah, anyone can do
mischief with them. Therefore, we marry them young to save them
from this mischief and gossip...We will only change [this custom]
when our caste says to. We will only raise the age of a girl's
marriage in our caste if the girls are put in purdah.

Being in purdah depends on the economic security of the household and on a
sufficient level of affluence to be able to do without women's work as a
critical source of subsistence. Being married at an age much younger than
that of Bhumihar girls does not, as will be seen below, save the Chamar
girls from "mischief."

Control Over Resources

A key point of contrast between these two groups of women, stemming from
their, different roles in production, is the extent to which they have
control over resources that are critical to the household's survival and
income generating. Their dependence upon, or independence of, males is
directly correlated with this control. Traditional Hindu law precludes the
inheriting of property by daughters (except in the absence of sons) or by


wives. Property is inherited patrilineally by sons; a widow may only use
her husband's property until her sons come of age. The cases I am familiar
with in which a daughter inherited land or a widow gained control over
property inevitably involved a clash and struggle with male kin over claim
to the land (M. Sharma 1978:103, 136).

The dowery that goes with a Bhumihar woman in marriage is considered the
property of the husband's household and not her own. Women in the
landowning caste do have personal clothing, ornaments, and cash that may be
given directly to them (usually from their consanguineal relatives). But
even personal ornaments, despite the popular myth to the contrary, are not
strictly under women's control (cf. Jacobson 1976). Women do have access to
grain that may be used to make barter purchases of small items. There is
one source of independent income available to only a few of the women from
the wealthiest Bhumihar families--moneylending. Using money from their own
private fund, these women usually make loans to Chamars and are repaid
monthly at the rate of 36% annual interest. This hardly represents any
critical contribution to household expenses and, indeed, is used solely by
the women they like.23

A Chamar woman, on the other hand, makes an absolutely critical
contribution to the household subsistence by her work as a daily wage
laborer for the Bhumihars (as well as Brahmans and, occasionally, Kurmis).
One woman reported receiving a total of about 50 sers as her total payment
for working during the harvest season. This represents no inconsiderable
amount for the family's survival. The fact that her contribution is so
necessary accounts for a Chamar woman's greater independence, voice in
decisions, and--ultimately--status within the household. It does not,
however, give her higher status in the society at large. This contradiction
between the higher status of the Bhumihar in the social sphere and the low
status of Chamar women is further brought out by the differences in their
control over sexuality.

Control of Sexuality, Reproductive Activities, and Fertility

There are two factes to this aspect of a woman's control over her life:
control over reproductive activities and fertility within the family and
control of sexuality outside. The connection between the early age of
marriage for Chamar girls and lack of purdah was mentioned earlier. The
purpose is to "save" the girls from the "mischief" they may be vulnerable to
as they wander through the village, working for the upper castes. Class
dominance is clearly at work in the many incidents in which Bhumihar men
take sexual advantage of their low caste female laborers. Men of all castes
openly acknowledge this. It was often revealed to illustrate the point
that, while higher castes would not physically touch or drink water from
Chamars, nor sit on the same cot with them, they do not hestitate to touch
their bodies in sexual intimacy. This situation, in which Bhumihars take
advantage of the women who come to work for them, had become intolerable for
the Chamars at the time of this study. When a group of them drafted a
letter to Jagivan Ram, a Chamar who was then Food Minister in the national


government, it became the issue of a major complaint. An illustration of
the complexity of the problem is found in the tale of a twenty-two-year old
Musahar (Untouchable) who drowned himself by jumping into a village well.
This occurred after a heated argument with his wife in which she refused to
stop her relationship with two Bhumihars for whom she worked because she
received many favors from them in both cash and in kind and these "gifts"
were crucial for her family's subsistence. Such poverty-stricken women,
because of the complete dependence of their entire families on the
landowning caste for their livelihoods, are subject to this injustice and

While Bhumihar men take advantage of their female laborers, strict
chastity is demanded by them of their own women. When asked why they keep
their women in purdah, a major reason they give is that "women are not to be
trusted." The chastity that is so often lauded as both ideal and reality
for Indian womanhood (e.g., Jacobson 1977:44; 1978) must be seen as it is
related to class dominance and inequalities.

Bhumihar women do not have much control over their own reproductive
activities and fertility. Others who have a more important role are their
husbands and mothers-in-law. The latter may even, in the early years of
marriage, have an important say as to when a couple may sleep together.24
The desire of other members of the household for a (male) child, combined
with the non-use of contraceptives and the fact that a woman's status is
enhanced by bearing children, put pressures on the woman that she is unable
to control. Abortion is available only after years of marriage and many
children (and miscarriages), when a woman has built up her own network in
the village to help her in such matters. I do not have direct information
about control over reproductive activities by Chamar women. Given, however,
that Chamar women have greater inputs into household decisions in general
and given that they are considered more knowledgeable about childbirth and
abortifacients than Bhumihar women, we might assume that they would also
have more control over reproductive activities.

Despite their great poverty, Chamars seemed less open to even
considering the idea of fertility control than Bhumihars. Although it is
often assumed that the difference is accounted for by the lack of education
among the former, the matter is not that simple. It is well known that the
process of development in agricultural economies may cause serious
dislocations, specifically among those groups that lose access to control
over the means of production (land). Previously, fertility bore a
relationship to the numbers that could be supported by what a household
produced from the land. With increasing proletarianization and
pauperization now occurring, this tie between fertility and the land has
been broken. It is, ironically, among the poorest--those who have only
their labor to sell--that having many children represents the only form of
capital investment and hope for accumulation (Mamdani 1972; Young
1978:130ff; de Janvry and Garramon 1977:212ff). Thus, as Beneria and Sen
note, "pronatalist tendencies may have a clear economic basis based on the
poor peasant household's condition of survival" (1981:296). Yet the fact
remains that it is the women who bear the children.


While it is true that decisions about childbearing may affect the
survival of the entire household over time, the most immediate
burden of multiple pregnancies is on the mother. In conditions of
severe poverty and malnutrition as well as overwork, this can and
does take a heavy toll on the mother's health and well-being. The
poor peasant household may survive off the continuous pregnancy
and ill-health of the mother, which are exacerbated by high infant
mortality. The mother's class interests and her responsibilities
as a woman come into severe conflict (Beneria and Sen 1981:296; my

Stereotypic Ideals of Indian Woman

The "ideal" Indian woman, maintained by the Ehumihars, is worshipped as
a goddess; chaste, submissive, self-sacrificing, dependent, and restricted
to domestic affairs. Although not all Bhumihar women (in fact, none that I
knew) lived up to this ideal, it remained the ideal. Chamar women, on the
other hand, not only did not conform to this ideal, they were not even
expected to. They had a greater understanding of the way in which the
realities of their existence made the women the way they were. Chamar women
were hardly conceived of as goddesses and chastity was not always theirs to
control. They were not submissive and in purdah, but would speak up and
protest. They were not only dominant in domestic duties, but also worked
outside the home and had a comparatively greater economic independence and
freedom of movement.

Contradictions of Class and Gender in Rural North India

Pn attempt to understand the position of women in rural North India
necessitated identifying the various social relations that structure women's
subordination to men (gender) and determining how these are distinct from or
connected with the social relations maintaining class dominance and
subordination. This may show us how class location mediates and
differentiates the experience of gender oppression. Rich and poor women
experience oppression under capitalism in different ways and are placed in
subordinate positions at different levels in the interaction of class and
gender. The manner in which both of these determine the relationship of men
and women to the production process is, however, not always the same. On
the one hand, Boserup and others argue that "increased production of
cash/export crops demanded by the colonial powers from an indigenous economy
progressively excluded women from export production and confined them to the
subsistence sector" (Stoler 1977:70). Stoler, in her study on class
structure and female autonomy in rural Java, on the other hand, sees access
to strategic resources, cross-cutting sexual distinctions, as being more
important (1977). Omvedt also argues that "the greatest barriers to the
full liberation of Indian women today lie not so much in the survivals of
caste orthodoxy or patriarchalism as in the continuing socio-economic
Inequalities that make it impossible for lower-class women to capitalize on
the democratizing gains of the nationalist period" (1975:43).



It is true that the sexual division of labor in "traditional" socie
has been changing and that the increasing stratification and differentia
that comes with capitalist relations makes socio-economic status
important a variable as sex in determining the division of labor. Woml
extra-domestic occupations in rural North India are thus correlated with
position of the household within the community. Nonetheless, as Young
found in her study in Oaxaca, Mexico, "women have not escaped from the
hierarchy, rather this has been replicated in the developing capital
relations...[it] is not merely a case of the perpetuation of the ideolog
system, but rather of women in this part of the world being more fi
locked into domestic and reproductive roles as a consequence of the typi
economic changes that have been fostered" (1976:153, my emphasis). In o
words, the ideology of patriarchy is constantly being incorporated into
material base of capitalist relations.

The ideology of patriarchal gender relations has been reinforced by
type of development taking place in the Indian countryside.25
adversely affects women in a number of ways. First, "capitalist penetra
leads to the pauperization and marginalization of large masses
subsistence reproducers in India, the capitalist periphery. .women
more affected by these processes than men, who may still be partly absc
into the actual wage labor force" [i.e., proletarianized] (Mies 198C
Women are increasingly losing effective control over productive resoL
and over the labor process and production. This has eroded the mate
base of women's subsistence reproduction and aoversely affected t
status. Because they are both squeezed out of agriculture and are not t
employed elsewhere, women are becoming pauperized at a faster pace

Second, there is a growing inequality and polarization between the
as women are confined to reproductive roles (as housewives in purdah
participate in the less productive spheres of traditional agriculture.
monopolize those spheres involving new technology and increase their cor
over production; they also are recruited as laborers when production
exchange is introduced. New elements of patriarchalism and sexism emerge

Third, and most important for this paper, the polarization of the
is linked to the overall process of class polarization taking place
the impact of capitalist farming and "Green Revolution" technologies.
class differentiation accompanying capitalist transformation provides E
basis for differentiating women by class. Once some of the lower c;
("backward classes"), for example, are able to achieve a certain ecol
status, their women go into seclusion and become subject to patria:
norms of behavior (e.g., the aspirations of Arunpur Chamars). Poor cl
have adopted the patriarchal dowery system in imitation of those with h
status. The result is indebtedness among those who cannot even always
subsistence needs (Mies 1980:9-10).

The situation in Arunpur starkly concretizes several of these gei
observations. The major contradiction in gender relations for rural


is that increased economic independence and security for males secures only
increased dependence and restriction in the lives of women. By
relinquishing their role in production, women then relinquish control over
the only possible source of income that may generate capital accumulation.
With the loss of this role, women's status is devalued. This is most
apparent in the contrast between the private, enhanced domestic status of
the Chamar women and the public, enhanced social status of the Bhumihars.
The latter come from households belonging to a class of landowners. The
economic independence and security of these households, which can afford the
use of hired labor, has relieved women of many of the agricultural tasks and
some of the domestic chores. They are confined to reproduction tasks in the
household, restricted by seclusion and the practice of purdah, totally
dependent upon males in the family, subject to control by a host of others,
and have no material bases from which to direct family affairs and be
important decision makers. There has been a "trade-off" between low gender
status in the family and higher social class status in the community.

Chamar women, as landless agricultural laborers, contribute to the
income needed for the survival of the family. They exhibit a greater
economic independence and freedom as well as a higher status within their
own households. They are also controlled by Chamar men and materially
dependent, but this appears to be a different type of dependency from that
experienced by upper caste women. It has less to do with the sexual
division of labor or the reduction of women to female tasks in household and
child care. The material dependence of Untouchable women may be, rather, a
function of their: (a) total reliance on the labor of others (as when a
young bride or mother does not work); (b) the nature of decisions over which
they have no control (e.g., biological reproduction); or (c) the
vulnerability arising from the chance that essential income may be withdrawn
from the relationship (e.g., a woman may lose her income from agricultural
work). Unlike the dependence of upper caste women, which is rooted in the
sexual division of labor and hence predominantly a form of economic
dependence, the dependency binding Chamar women to men appears to be based
more on extra-economic forms of control and dominance that are rooted in
superior power (see further, Middleton 1981: 121-122).

The claim that Chamar women would prefer to go into purdah does not
contradict the view that by so doing women increase their subordination to
men within the family. It reveals the contradictory position of women in
rural India under increasing class polarities generated by the high level of
productive forces and the spread of capitalist relations in agriculture.
While "development" and modern changes in technology have freed the more
affluent women from the necessity of engaging in strenuous agricultural
work, they have also freed women from a participation in and control over
subsistence production. This "freedom" has increased their own dependency
and subordination within the household. By devaluing women's work and
independence in production and imputing a higher status to those who are the
most dependent and confined to reproduction activities, patriarchal ideology
and relations within the household have reinforced the material
subordination of rural women of all classes. The price of poverty is too
high to pay for such "freedoms."


Multiple contradictions also face women with regard to biological
reproduction in Arunpur. On the one hand, increasing uneven development via
the extension of capitalist relations of production has created a
poverty-stricken class which depends on a large number of laborers to assure
minimal survival of the household. Such short-term gains from large
families, in the face of household vulnerability, create tremendous
obstacles to overcoming the very conditions of poverty which caused this in
the first place. On the other hand, the reproduction needed to ensure
survival of the laboring class family in the countryside is not conducive to
ensuring the survival of a woman from that class. Thus, Chamar women, like
Bhumihar women, have very different views toward birth control,
contraception, and even sterilization than their husbands or mothers-in-law
(see also Beneria and Sen 1981:296; de Janvry and Garramon 1977:212ff).

The contradictions arising out of capitalist development as it affects
relations of class and gender may be best seen from the position of the poor
rural woman. She is subject to increasing poverty and the onerous burden of
a double day--domestic chores at home and labor in agricultural production
as well. She faces a triple exploitation. First, as a woman she is
oppressed by her husband and sexually abused by landlords and rich
peasants. Second, as a member of a landless agrarian class, she is
exploited by the upper class (and castes) in the countryside and by the
landlords and moneylenders. Third, as a member of a more generalized class
of laborers within capitalist society, she and all the other rural and
industrial workers, are exploited by the rich landlords and moneylenders as
well as by the capitalist class. An understanding of the nature of women's
oppression and the importance of class differences in defining their
subordination makes it harder to refer to "false consciousness" as an
explanation for why the poor would like to go into purdah or so strongly
defend an institution--the family--that appears to be the locus of much of
their oppression. We need to realize that the material realities of
"trade-offs" for rural women will differ. Neither may "false consciousness"
be used to dismiss divisions among women that are rooted in class. The
attack on women's subordination, as Sen perceptively notes, must be balanced
with a vision of the real and possible alternatives that exist for them
(1980:85; also Tepperman 1981:10).

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs