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“Without His Consent?”: Marriage and Women's Migration in Colonial India
Published in -
Volume: 65
Pages: 77 - 104
An examination of the diverse patterns of women's migration challenges abiding stereotypes of Indian history: the urban worker as a male “peasant-proletariat” and women as inhabiting a timeless rural past. When men opted for circulation between town and country, wives and children undertook the actual labor of cultivation for the survival of “peasant-proletariat” households. Men retained their status as heads of the family and, even though absent for long periods, their proprietary interests in the village. Yet towards the end of the nineteenth century, many unhappy, deserted, and barren wives, widows, and other women were able to escape to the burgeoning cities of Calcutta and Bombay and the coal mines, where they experienced new processes of social and economic marginalization. Much attention has been given to women's migration to overseas colonies and the Assam teagardens. Such migration has been seen as doubly negative, not only harnessing women to the exploitative contract regimes, but also subjecting them to sexual violation. A general assumption is that women were deceived, decoyed and even “kidnapped,” since there was no possibility of “voluntary” migration by women. Such a view of women's recruitment was produced by a variety of interests opposed to women's, especially married women's, migration, and eventually influenced the colonial state to legally prohibit, in 1901, women's “voluntary” migration to Assam plantations. This provision was an explicit endorsement of male claims on women's labor within the family. © 2004, Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.
About the journal
JournalInternational Labor and Working-Class History