|Abstract or Summary
- This thesis outlines dominant ideologies and practices that affect women's
authority in the urban social milieu of north India. Theories that consider the causes
of social stratification by gender as well as social movement patterns are useful for
understanding the durability of gender roles. The utility of these theories for
understanding the patterns of social organization in India is discussed. Additionally, I
report on interviews I conducted with police, non-governmental organization founders
and individuals who are involved in and affected by women's issues, in order to
outline potential variations in existing practices.
In urban India, traditional and contemporary social practices meld into a
proscribed, often volatile cultural setting in which women's roles are stringently
defined. In the city of New Delhi, reports of "bride burnings" or murders attributed to
family conflicts over dowry have surfaced during the last decades of the 2O century,
and resulting protest movements have sparked governmental and grass-roots level
reforms. Extreme cases of violence against women are indicative of troublesome
cultural ideologies, including the social and economic devaluation of women.
Urbanization has intensified financial negotiations in marriage alliances, and a
woman's social worth is increasingly measured according to her market value.
A Women's Movement comprised of various interest groups has contributed to
the dialog on the social climate of north India, and feminist advocates have sought to
redefine women's roles. Within the hierarchical structure of the Hindu culture,
concepts of kinship and community take precedence over personal agendas, and social
action is thus driven by family values as well as movement ideologies. State policies
designed to address social ills such as domestic violence are ineffectual because they
do not address the extant causes of abuse or constraints against women. Independent
organizations and activist groups have recognized the need to work within traditional
norms in order to advance women's movement objectives, despite the restrictions
inherent within patriarchy. These tactics risk accomplishing little social change, and
may at times perpetuate practices that limit women's activity.