In Sexual States: Governance and the Struggle over the Antisodomy Law in India
(Duke University Press, 2016), Jyoti Puri
tracks the efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in India to show how the regulation of sexuality is fundamentally tied to the creation and enduring existence of the state. Since 2001 activists have attempted to rewrite Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which in addition to outlawing homosexual behavior is often used to prosecute a range of activities and groups that are considered perverse. Having interviewed activists and NGO workers throughout five metropolitan centers, investigated crime statistics and case law, visited various state institutions, and met with the police, Puri found that Section 377 is but one element of how homosexuality is regulated in India.
Through a cleverly conceptualized multi-sited ethnography and rigorous historical analysis, Puri masterfully shows how the hypervisibility of Section 377 has consequences for the ways in which sexuality, and the regulation of sexuality, is imagined and reproduced in rationalities of governance.This statute works alongside the large and complex system of laws, practices, policies, and discourses intended to mitigate sexuality's threat to the social order while upholding the state as inevitable, legitimate, and indispensable. By highlighting the various means through which the regdulation of sexuality constitutes India's heterogeneous and fragmented "sexual state," Puri provides a conceptual framework to understand the links between sexuality and the state more broadly. That it does so in the context of a postcolonial state like India makes the conceptual framework even more vibrant and provocative. This book is an invaluable contribution to the existing literature that delves into the paradoxes and possibilities of law, biopolitics, and state power and authority in everyday life.
Sneha Annavarapu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.