Women and gold : gender and urbanisation in contemporary Bengal
The thesis is based on data collected during a twenty months period of fieldwork undertaken in Calcutta, India. The main concern is with the effects of processes of urbanisation on middle-class women's lives in a heterogeneous neighbourhood. While focusing on members of the Bengali Hindu majority comparative material drawn from data referring to the Bengali Christian and Marwari communities is incorporated. Initially the socio-economic history of different castes and communities and in particular the Subarnabanik Bene (goldsmiths and sellers of gold) occupational and ritual patterns as well as educational standards are investigated. In the following chapters the effects of socio-economic change on marriage patterns (love- and arranged marriages) and their evaluation as well as various types of marriage transactions undertaken are described and interpreted. In the course of the remaining chapters household structures, women's work in the domestic sphere and female employment as well as redefined concepts relating to segregation and seclusion are analysed. Throughout the thesis various aspects of women's ritual activities, reproductive behaviour and kinship relations are investigated in a rapidly changing urban setting. Within the given context concepts of gender- and community-identity are explored and the influence of long-term and recent economic changes are analysed. Different meanings of phenomena like dowry, seclusion or the joint family and ideologies employed to legitimise the same are described with reference to traditional and modern practice. The domestic sphere identified with women and kinship is interpreted as linked to concepts of status within the urban setting where caste and community affiliation are among a number of defining features of group affiliation such as class and regional origin. Relations between gender and community are explored within the context of the locality and its history. As an overall hypothesis the flexibility and modern content of assumedly traditional concepts and practices is demonstrated.