Poulami RoychowdhuryMay 11, 2021
Capable Women, Incapable States
Negotiating Violence and Rights in India
Oxford University Press 2020
How do women claim rights against violence in India and with what consequences? By observing how survivors navigate the Indian criminal justice system, Roychowdhury provides a unique lens on rights negotiations in the world's largest democracy. She finds that women interact with the law not by following legal procedure or abiding by the rules, but by deploying collective threats and doing the work of the state themselves. They do so because law enforcement personnel are incapacitated and unwilling to enforce the law. As a result, rights negotiations do not necessarily lead to more woman-friendly outcomes or better legal enforcement. Instead, they allow some women to make gains outside the law: repossess property and children, negotiate cash settlements, join women's groups, access paid employment, develop a sense of self-assurance, and become members of the public sphere.
Capable Women, Incapable States: Negotiating Violence and Rights in India (Oxford UP, 2020) shows how the Indian criminal justice system governs violence against women not by protecting them from harm, but by forcing them to become "capable": to take the law into their own hands and complete the hard work that incapable and unwilling state officials refuse to complete. Roychowdhury's book houses implications for how we understand gender inequality and governance not just in India, but large parts of the world where political mobilization for rights confronts negligent criminal justice systems throughout the world.
Sneha Annavarapu is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago.