Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Did Dayabhaga help bengali wives in the nineteenth century?

From Reflections on Kulin polygamy: Nistarini Debi's Sekeley Katha by Malavika Karlelar
"Calling it 'wholesale polygamy', H.H. Risley commented that 'several middle-aged Kulins are known to have had more than a hundred wives and to have spent their lives on a round of visits to their mothers-in-law' (Risley 1915: 166). Not unexpectedly, many of these women who were widowed or deserted found their way to the brothels of Calcutta (Banerjee 1993). According to one official estimate of the mid-nineteenth century, out of the 12,000 prostitutes in the growing metropolitan area, almost 10,000 were the wives, widows or daughters of Kulin Brahmins (Chakrabarty 1963)......
It would not be out of place to draw attention to the fact that Bengal is governed by the Dayabhaga school of law which, in the absence of a son, grandson and great grandson, gives the wife a right not only in joint family property but also in her husband's self-acquired assets. The link between sati and women's inheritance has been discussed elsewhere (Nandy 1980; Mukherjee, 1957); here, it needs to be pointed out that the more liberal law of inheritance in Bengal appeared only to harden attitudes towards wives. Unwanted widows became prostitutes and satis as Kulin wives and widows were never welcome in their husbands' homes."
Some discussion of Benali famil names and castes here.

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