Joanna Liddle and Rama Joshi explore the connection in India between gender and caste, and gender and class. They ask whether the subordination of women has diminished as India moves from a caste to a class structure, and what effect colonization had on the status of women in India. Focusing on educated, professional women, the authors look at the particular experiences of 120 women they interviewed, and also interpret the larger patterns of social relations that emerge from the interviews. These sensitive stories are told with an eloquence that is often moving and inspiring.
For thousands of years Indian women have had a cultural tradition of resisting male domination. At the same time, the control of female sexuality has always been central to social hierarchies in India. Women are constrained in both class and caste hierarchies, to help distinguish the men at the top of the hierarchy from men at the bottom, where women are less constrained. In class society the seclusion of women allowed men to have sexual control over women and to retain the property that was transferred in marriage.
In contemporary India, professional women have had success entering the professions as the social groups to which they belong move increasingly to class rather than caste structures. But men continue to control the type of education they receive and the type of employment open to them, and to participate in the sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The concept that women are inferior to men--a concept that is not part of the Indian cultural heritage--is growing. In a sense, working professional women strengthen male control. The class structure is no more egalitarian than the caste structure, as oppression simply takes other forms.