The Historical Roots of Dowries in Contemporary Kerala

Anna Lindberg

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4 Citations (SciVal)


Dowry payments from the family of the bride to that of the groom were rarely encountered in Kerala during the early twentieth century, but now are almost universal. Based on an examination of historical documents, including legislative debates, court cases, and reports, the way dowry was explained in the past is compared with the results of 200 contemporary interviews to determine its current rationale. Nowadays, making an obligatory payment for the maintenance of a wife, adherence to a social norm, and guaranteeing a woman's good treatment have displaced earlier arguments related to inheritance, status in the social hierarchy, or a woman's ability to provide for herself. Although several blurred traditions have been cited to account for dowries, they seem to have flourished in times of social inequity and uncertainty: the 1930s, 1970s, and 1990s. The emphasis on patriarchal nuclear families has created a mentality that a woman must pay for the privilege of being married and living securely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-42
JournalSouth Asia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History


  • Kerala
  • Dowry
  • marriage
  • women
  • gender


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