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Unmarried women of the Dhaula-dhar: celibacy and social control in northwest India

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Peter Phillimore


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For women, marriage is axiomatic in rural India. On the fringes of the Himalaya in Kangra, however, the status of sadhin offers a small number of women an unconventional, but respectable, alternative to the accepted female roles of wife and mother. The name carries ascetic connotations, and the status derives its legitimacy from association with the Hindu ascetic tradition. Yet it is marriage and sexuality which a sadhin renounces, not worldly life generally: she remains in her natal village, may acquire property, and most visibly dresses and acts in many contexts like a man. This account links the highly localized and comparatively recent historical emergence of this unusual practice with the settlement in Kangra of Gaddis and neighboring Hindu groups, migrating from the mountainous interior over the last century, and with the consequent collision of differing codes and conventions about women's conduct. At issue is the regulation of female sexuality and the impossibility of simple spinsterhood in Kangra's culturally fastidious environment.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Phillimore PR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Anthropological Research

Year: 1991

Volume: 47

Issue: 3

Pages: 331-350

Print publication date: 01/01/1991

ISSN (print): 0091-7710

ISSN (electronic):