Re­defin­ing Women’s Roles

Southasia - - Book Review - Re­viewed by Dr. Omar Fa­rooq Khan The re­viewer is a med­i­cal doc­tor and an ar­dent be­liever in Jin­nah’s ide­olo­gies for bal­anced na­tion-build­ing.

Ti­tle: A Pun­jabi Vil­lage in Pak­istan – Per­spec­tives on Com­mu­nity, Land, and Econ­omy Au­thor: Zekiye Eglar Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, Pak­istan (Oc­to­ber 2010) Pages: 469, Hard­back Price: PKR. 1295 ISBN: 9780195477238

An­thro­pol­ogy is the study of hu­man­ity. The term “an­thro­pol­ogy” it­self is de­rived from the Greek words “an­thro­pos” and “lo­gia” and was first used in 1501 by Ger­man philoso­pher Mag­nus Hundt.

Its fur­ther di­vi­sions in­clude cog­ni­tive/cul­tural and eco­nomic an­thro­pol­ogy. Cog­ni­tive an­thro­pol­ogy lies within cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy, in which schol­ars seek to ex­plain pat­terns of shared knowl­edge, cul­tural in­no­va­tion and trans­mis­sion over time and space us­ing the meth­ods and the­o­ries of the cog­ni­tive sci­ences (es­pe­cially ex­per­i­men­tal psy­chol­ogy and evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy). This is of­ten con­ducted through close col­labo- ra­tion with his­to­ri­ans, ethno­g­ra­phers, ar­chae­ol­o­gists, lin­guists, mu­si­col­o­gists and other spe­cial­ists en­gaged in the de­scrip­tion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of cul­tural forms. Cog­ni­tive an­thro­pol­ogy is con­cerned with what peo­ple from dif­fer­ent groups know and how that im­plicit knowl­edge changes the way peo­ple per­ceive and re­late to the world around them.

Eco­nomic an­thro­pol­ogy is a schol­arly field that at­tempts to ex­plain hu­man eco­nomic be­hav­iour us­ing the tools of both eco­nom­ics and an­thro­pol­ogy. There are three ma­jor par­a­digms within the field of eco­nomic an­thro­pol­ogy: for­mal­ism, sub­stan­tivism and cul­tur­al­ism.

One of the roles of an an­thro­pol­o­gist is to an­a­lyze each cul­ture with re­gard to its cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate means of at­tain­ing rec­og­nized and val­ued goals. The chal­lenge is that the in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences may dif­fer from cul­tur­ally rec­og­nized goals. Un­der eco­nomic ra­tio­nal­ity, in­di­vid­ual de­ci­sions are guided by in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences in an en­vi­ron­ment con­strained by cul­ture, in­clud­ing the pref­er­ences of oth­ers. Such an anal­y­sis should un­cover the cul­tur­ally-spe­cific prin­ci­ples that un­der­lie the ra­tio­nal decision-mak­ing process.

Although there are nu­mer­ous books that high­light cul­tural and eco­nomic an­thro­po­log­i­cal cases there are

very few that not only shed light on the sub­ject but also make an in­ter­est­ing read. One such an­thro­po­log­i­cal gem hap­pens to be ‘A Pun­jabi Vil­lage in Pak­istan – Per­spec­tives on Com­mu­nity, Land, and Econ­omy’ by Zekiye Eglar.

The in­tro­duc­tion and pref­ace of the book pro­vides some in­sight into the au­thor’s life, which hap­pens to be just as in­ter­est­ing as the events and fig­ures she de­scribes in her book. Eglar was a child of mul­ti­ple worlds and shows affin­ity for dif­fer­ent kinds of cul­tures from an early age. She was born in Ge­or­gia and her mother was the daugh­ter of a Georgian prince while her fa­ther (Su­ley­man Pasha) was an Azer­bai­jani Turk who served as a gen­eral in the Czar’s army.

Fol­low­ing the 1917 Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion, her fam­ily moved to Azer­bai­jan and in 1923 gained ex­po­sure to the newly lib­er­ated/in­de­pen­dent Repub­lic of Turkey. In­ter­est­ingly, her fam­ily’s as­so­ci­a­tion with mod­ern Turkey’s found­ing fa­ther (Ataturk) re­sulted in the be­stow­ing of the ti­tle “Eglar” (in­tel­li­gence) upon them. All such ex­po­sures and en­coun­ters with dif­fer­ent cul­tures, lan­guages and cus­toms served as the build­ing blocks for Eglar’s in­ter­ests and fu­ture spe­cial­iza­tion in cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy.

Eglar spent most of her life and ca­reer shuf­fling be­tween the U.S and Turkey. In 1933, she stud­ied at Columbia Univer­sity, un­der the tute­lage of great an­thro­pol­o­gists like Mar­garet Mead and Ruth Bene­dict. In later years she also taught cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy at Ankara Univer­sity, be­fore re­turn­ing to Columbia to com­plete her PHD. Her dis­ser­ta­tion, ‘Var­tan Bhanji: In­sti­tu­tion­al­ized Rec­i­proc­ity in a Chang­ing Pun­jabi vil­lage’ was first pub­lished by the Columbia Univer­sity Press in 1958. This dis­ser­ta­tion served as the first step in Eglar’s in­ter­est in the cul­tural in­sights of a Pun­jabi vil­lage and dur­ing her time at Har­vard it was fol- lowed by a se­quel: ‘The Eco­nomic Life of a Pun­jabi Vil­lage.’

In her book, Eglar speaks highly of her co-work­ers and helpers such as Mr. Fazal Ahmed Choudhry, who played a piv­otal role in her re­search. It was Choudhry who helped Eglar in get­ting ac­quainted with the com­mu­nity in Mohla; a vil­lage in Gu­jrat, which was to be the site of her an­thro­po­log­i­cal mas­ter­piece.

Her own ori­gins and back­ground was also a ma­jor fac­tor in her ac­cep­tance in Mohla; be­ing born and raised as a Mus­lim and an Az­eri Turk. Through­out her life, she had friends and ac­quain­tances from a di­verse back­ground but her fam­ily ori­gins were still Turk/mus­lim. Her de­tailed ex­pe­ri­ences showed that Pak­ista­nis (both ur­ban and ru­ral) highly re­garded Turks.

Eglar’s man­u­script is di­vided into two parts with the first part gen­er­ally de­scrib­ing the life in the vil­lage and the sec­ond part fo­cus­ing on its eco­nomic as­pects. Book One de­scribes in de­tail the vil­lage it­self, its com­pound, castes, the val­ues at­tached to the land and pres­tige and ends with chap­ters high­light­ing the vil­lage cal­en­dar, the sea­sons with re­la­tion to plant­ing and har­vest­ing, the hi­er­ar­chy within the clan and com­mu­nity and the fam­ily’s re­la­tion­ships and in­ter­ac­tions. The sec­ond book fo­cuses more on the eco­nomic as­pect of the vil­lage life and gives an in­sight into the dif­fer­ent roles and re­la­tion­ships that are cen­tred around the women of the vil­lage. The de­tails are cap­tured through lo­cal ter­mi­nolo­gies like bi­raderi (com­mu­nity),

iz­zat (hon­our) and sadr (in­ner most de­sire), mak­ing for an in­ter­est­ing read.

In her re­search, Eglar also dis­cov­ered un­writ­ten so­cial con­tracts and re­la­tion­ships known as var­tan bhanji that bound the com­mu­nity at dif­fer­ent lev­els. The well-es­tab­lished net­work­ing pat­terns of var­tan bhanji re­in­forced re­la­tion­ships within the fam­ily. These pat­terns then ex­tended be­yond the fam­ily to the wider vil­lage com­mu­nity and fur­ther, to other vil­lages in the area. The un­writ­ten code also sus­tained pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships be­tween the landown­ers and the ten­ant farm­ers. Var­tan bhanji re­volved around farm­ing and its as­so­ci­ated trades, with var­i­ous barter ex­changes rather than cash pay­ments and with women play­ing a cen­tral role. This phe­nom­e­non of var­tan bhanji is what for­mu­lates the main crux of Eglar’s book

Eglar’s stud­ies at the Mohla make an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the un­der­stand­ing of women’s role in this pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim, agrar­ian so­ci­ety. The book doc­u­ments women as cen­tral to the in­ter­de­pen­dent process. Women con­tin­ued the tra­di­tions of var­tan bhanji that bound the so­cial fab­ric of the vil­lage to­gether with the process pri­mar­ily tak­ing place through the daugh­ter of the house. In the com­mu­nity-man­aged pat­tern of re­solv­ing dis­putes, women were also in a key po­si­tion as mar­ried daugh­ters could me­di­ate in squab­bles. These find­ings coun­tered the pre­vail­ing wis­dom about women’s roles par­tic­u­larly in such ru­ral, pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim set­tings. In short, women were cen­tral not just to the so­cial re­la­tion­ships of the vil­lage cul­ture but also to the vil­lage econ­omy and to the eco­nomic well-be­ing of their fam­i­lies.

Even though times have now changed, women still re­tain their po­si­tions as man­agers of the house and fam­ily and so­cial re­la­tion­ships in the vil­lage and be­yond. This role re­mains an ac­tive rather than a pas­sive one and coun­ters the con­ven­tional po­si­tion of Mus­lim women as sub­mis­sive or docile decision mak­ers.

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