Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Agents of Capital: Widowed Matriarchs in the Transition to Colonial Rule in Eighteenth-Century North India

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

Calling into question historical reconstructions which studied both ‘economy’ and its representatives from a predominantly male-centric perspective, feminist scholarship on South Asia has traced genealogies of propertied women’s complex roles as political and economic power brokers in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Scholars have eschewed oppositional constructions of economy and culture, piety and capital to draw attention to the ways in which entrepreneurial women cultivated social and spiritual capital within their communities, even creating mutually lucrative relationships with monastic sects which supported their claims.


This paper will show that elderly widowed women from propertied households participated in the emergent colonial economy as heads of households, as people with credit and authority in the community, as managers of their family concerns and businesses. It argues that it was precisely their expert experience in the management of household bureaucracies and beyond that made them able contenders who could tide their families through a period of transition to colonial rule. As the East India Company began monopolizing power to itself, propertied matriarchs strategically exerted their authority and influence in household and community spaces where kinship ties, piety and caste-based practices framed credit transactions and debt recovery. Simultaneously, they tried to ingratiate themselves within the Company’s bureaucracy through bribes and negotiations. The paper argues that Company officials responded to these management practices by using Coverture-based policies preferring to subordinate them to their sons, and other male relatives. Colonial disempowerment of agential widows could be traced to such gendered state governance of household and community relationships.

Rochisha Narayan

University of Cincinnati, United States

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1 - Agents of Capital: Widowed Matriarchs in the Transition to Colonial Rule in Eighteenth-Century North India



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Send Email for Agents of Capital: Widowed Matriarchs in the Transition to Colonial Rule in Eighteenth-Century North India