This ethnohistory explored the historic relationship between the custom of dowry and violence against women in north India. It reconstructs the changing relationship of gender, dowry, and property in the colonial Punjab (1870-1940) and post-Partition Delhi that explains the modern pathology of dowry, female infanticide, fatal neglect of girls, and the aborting of female fetuses in India today.
Dr. Oldenburg contended that dowry was a custom invented by women for women, a marker of their status independent of their husbands, and a vital safety net against misfortune. Its meaning was transformed and the control of a woman's dowry passed to her affinal family in response to the colonial changes in the agrarian political economy of the region. This contention challenges the view that women's rights to property actually expanded under colonialism, as scholars of colonial reform legislation have held, and it reinterprets the imperatives that underpin the construction of gender in Punjabi families.