This thesis is concerned with female participation in a zamindary succession dispute from early 19th Century Madras Presidency, south India. The object of the study is two-fold. Firstly, it is a case study of the Vassareddy dispute. This conflict was concerned with an estate of extraordinary value and ended with the similarly extraordinary eradication of the material assets of the Vassareddy family. Even though the case has been well-known among historians of colonial south India, it has never been subjected to detailed study. It is only by studying all of documents from the different courts that one can get specific knowledge of the true complexity of this conflict. Secondly, this thesis is concerned with the women of the landowning Indian elite in the colonial period. Through different ethnographical sources the thesis approaches the topic of distinct south Indian views of womanhood. The main objective is to establish what was considered as appropriate behaviour for women from landed families, zamindary women, in early 19th Century Telugu country.
The thesis argues that the colonial sociology of women, part of the project of legitimizing the colonial presence in India, is insufficient to explain these women’s expressions in court. Furthermore it argues that the expressions of more localized views on womanhood found in the local ethnography provide a more fruitful approach to explaining the narratives and actions of the elite women of the Vassareddy case in the early colonial period. With these considerations in mind, the thesis explores the display of and opportunity for female agency which appears through these women’s testimony in the course of litigation.