Stolen Skin and Children Thrown: Governing sex and abortion in early modern South Asia

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What did women's bodies in pre-colonial South Asia have to do with the birth of capitalism? South Asia's pre-colonial integration into a globally emerging, early modern capitalist order reached deep into the hinterland to transform both state and society in eighteenth-century Marwar. Driving the change was an emergent elite, consisting largely of merchants, that channelled its energies towards reshaping caste. Merchants, in alliance with Brahmans, used their influence upon the state to adjudicate the boundary between the 'illicit' and the 'licit,' generating in the process a typology and an archive of deviant sex. In the legal framework that generated this archive, women were configured as passive recipients of sexual acts, lacking sexual personhood in law. Even as they escaped legal culpability for 'illicit' sex, women experienced, through this body of judgments, a strengthening of male proprietary controls over their bodies. Alongside, the criminalization of abortion served as a means of sexual disciplining. These findings suggest that post-Mughal, pre-colonial state formation in South Asia intersected with global economic transformations to generate new sex-caste orders and archival bodies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1509
Number of pages49
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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