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Social Science General

Capable Women, Incapable States

Negotiating Violence and Rights in India

by (author) Poulami Roychowdhury

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2020
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2020
    List Price

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In recent decades, the issue of gender-based violence has become heavily politicized in India. Yet, Indian law enforcement personnel continue to be biased against women and overburdened. In Capable Women, Incapable States, Poulami Roychowdhury asks how women claim rights within these conditions. Through long term ethnography, she provides an in-depth lens on rights negotiations in the world's largest democracy, detailing their social and political effects. Roychowdhury 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. And they behave this way because law enforcement personnel do not protect women from harm but do allow women to take the law into their own hands.

These negotiations do not enhance legal enforcement. Instead, they create a space where capable women can extract concessions outside the law, all while shouldering a new burden of labor and risk. A unique theory of gender inequality and governance, Capable Women, Incapable States forces us to rethink the effects of rights activism across large parts of the world where political mobilization confronts negligent criminal justice systems.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Poulami Roychowdhury is Assistant Professor of Sociology at McGill University. Her research examines the relationship between politics, law, and social inequality, with a focus on the global south. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, the American Institute for Indian Studies, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Fonds de Recherche du Quebec.