Aulad: Infertility and the Meanings of Children in North India

Singh, Holly Donahue, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Khare, R., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation investigates the meanings of a particular conception of "children as progeny", or aulad, among women in the Indian city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and in popular culture in north India. The dissertation examines understandings of aulad from the perspective of the problem of infertility to unravel the complexities of the desire for children. This dissertation traces the stakes of unfulfilled child desire in women's lives in Lucknow, from marriage through several possible paths in their reproductive journeys. I argue that the high cultural value on producing aulad for families creates particular pressures on women suffering from infertility to pursue aulad while selectively maintaining secrecy about the means through which they do so. However, differences in access to financial and medical resources, as well as religious differences in legal regulation, lead to disparities in women's abilities to secure aulad through recourse to institutions such as health camps, infertility clinics, and adoption centers. After an introductory chapter, the second and third chapters examine the importance of children for managing relationships in women's marital homes and for making women into mothers. The fourth chapter focuses on the uncertainty of successful reproduction for women living in poverty because of infertility, high infant and child mortality, and diverse definitions of aulad. The Singh iv fifth chapter traces the hopes, desires, and experiences of women seeking infertility treatment in government biomedical clinics in Lucknow. The sixth chapter analyzes talk about and popular media representations of adoption as a possible means of fulfilling child desire. The dissertation documents both Hindu and Muslim women's perspectives on infertility and the desire for children, including their assertions of infertile women's common experiences and strategies regardless of religious background, while drawing attention to the particular challenges that Muslim women encounter in seeking children. The research focuses on similarities and distinctions that can be traced to Indian government regulations, the interpretation of Islamic law, and everyday interactions among government employees, activists, and medical practitioners with people seeking children. The dissertation demonstrates the diversity of understandings of aulad and how women in Lucknow negotiated societal and familial expectations to pursue their own reproductive aspirations.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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