Book chapter / Gender, Caste, and Land Inequality in Kerala

Brulé, Rachel E. ‘Where Are the Women? Investigating Reform’s Roots’. In Women, Power, and Property: The Paradox of Gender Equality Laws in India, 70–117. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Summary: This chapter studies the strategic political origins of gender-equalizing land inheritance reforms using legislative debates newly translated to English, and analysis of historical behaviour and motivations.
It examines three states and the constitutional amendment mandating women’s electoral representation.
Kerala entered independence with one of the highest levels of caste and landholding inequality, alongside small matrilineal communities with high female autonomy.
Here, women’s rights to land were weaponized as a source of injustice (to men). Andhra Pradesh also entered independence with high caste and landholding inequality, absent a strong tradition of women’s autonomy.
Activism by radical, caste-based movements to undercut caste dominance enabled rethinking of power elsewhere. In this “moderate” example of reform, legislation was symbolic, resonant with newly pivotal female voters but unlikely to be enforced.
In Karnataka, moderate caste and landholding inequality enabled a newly empowered party and chief minister to legislate and enforce reform for women, due to women’s status as pivotal voters and the promise of fundamentally restructuring political agency.
Constitutional reform occurred due to women’s increasingly pivotal role as well-informed voters willing to reward or punish parties for their commitments.

Reposted from Kerala Scholars eGroup

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