Dowry in India has long been blamed for the murder of wives and female infants. Reconstructing the history of dowry in this highly provocative book, Veena Talwar Oldenburg argues that dowry is not always the motive for these killings as is widely believed; nor are these crimes a product of Indian culture or caste system. In the pre-colonial period, dowry, an institution managed by women to enable them to establish their independence, was a safety net. As a consequence of massive economic and societal upheaval brought on by British rule, however, women's control of the system diminished and dowry became extortion.
Drawing on her personal experience and rigorous research, the author shows that even as the law has prohibited dowry, it has deepened the misunderstanding of the motives for the deaths; it has led to silences and the complicated stories of the women who survive. Also, examining gender discrimination in modern India Dowry Murder poses some difficult questions: Are Indian women victims of their culture or active agents of a crime they inflict upon other women? Is dowry murder a cultural crime? Oldenburg provides an analytical and nuanced treatment of a complex and deeply controversial issue.