Perpetual Mourning : Widowhood in Rural India

Martha Alter Chen, OUP, 2000, xxx, 436 p, maps, tables, ISBN : 0195648854, $34.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)

Perpetual Mourning : Widowhood in Rural India/Martha Alter Chen

Contents: Introduction. I. Ideal widowhood: 1. The ideal Hindu woman. 2. The Sati. 3. The remarried widow. 4. The ascetic widow. II. Real widows: 5. Ties that bind. 6. Room and board. 7. A share of property. 8. The need to work. Conclusion : transforming widowhood. Tables. Glossary of selected terms. References. Index.

“The more sensational forms of widowhood, particularly those of the child widow, the ‘ascetic’ and sati, have long captured attention and invited debate. There is, however, an alarming lack of public concern for the quiet deprivations experienced by millions of widows in their everyday lives. Perpetual Mourning addresses this gap by providing a comprehensive view of the day-to-day realities of Hindu widows in rural India.

Chen systematically examines the relationship between the ideals and the realities of widowhood in rural India. She shows how ideological constructions of widowhood, embedded in orthodox Hindu traditions and texts are manifested in customary practices and norms, and how these cultural norms in turn influence the relationship between widows and their families.

Basing her book on rich empirical data and in-depth interviews with more than 550 widows from 14 villages in seven states, Chen analyses the social and economic challenges widows pose to the social order. The result is a truly interdisciplinary study that draws on development studies, economics, anthropology, sociology and mythology. In analysing how gender, caste, marriage and kinship rules interact to structure the lives of widows, this book offers new insights into gender and social institutions in India. It also invites a questioning of interventions to improve the position of these women. Addressing a wealth of relevant issues in gender studies, law, sociology, development policy and planning, students, specialists and activists will find this book extremely useful. It will also appeal to general readers curious about the reality behind the popular images of Indian widowhood.” (jacket)

[Martha Alter Chen is Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.]

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