Aouda's definitely the jewel of India, but there's a whole lot of speculation that could be made about Aouda's role in Around the World in Eighty Days. Showing up first as a damsel in distress, we're sort of proud of Jules Verne for bringing the horrific misogynistic practice of suttee to public light. On the other hand, he might have simply done it for adventure-horror points, much like the crazy guy who rips out people's hearts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A terrifying tribal practice is always a great plot point in adventure stories, we're finding out.
Aouda also engages in other anti-Victorian-lady practices such as shooting a gun, traveling alone with men, and putting herself in danger. She's definitely not the ultimate symbol of femininity in the 1870s, and again, we're really digging Jules Verne on this point.
But while we're totally stoked Fogg and Aouda find ultimate happiness in each other's arms, we can't help but think that Aouda, much like the country of India to the British crown, is also a "prize." Fogg wins her by going around the world. He "wins" her over with his manly gentlemanliness, and he also "wins" her hand in marriage. She could be the real prize Phileas wins in the end. Our feminist Shmoop selves are having heart attacks.
In the 1800s, most British people thought that native cultures were in need of "rescue"—their practices, religious ceremonies, and rites were something that needed culture, education, and Western influence. Aouda is already cultured (i.e., she knows about Western ways), and "speaks perfect English." She's also described as extremely fair (i.e., light-skinned), while also being exotic and dainty. In this way, we can see Aouda symbolizing the country of India as Great Britain wants it to be someday (at the time of Verne's writing). And in this way, we can see Aouda as shouldering a whole lot of racist baggage.