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Law and Critical Legal Theory

The Anveshi Law Initiative draws on three interrelated strands of activity. One, involvement in petitioning the courts and collaborative efforts to change or introduce legislation; two, Study Group on Law to discuss and respond to current issues as well as study conceptual developments in jurisprudence and legal theory; and three, specific research projects and investigations undertaken by individuals.

Anveshi’s investment in the task of explicating the political contexts of law, whether in relation to domestic violence or sexual assault, draws from our intervention in the Uniform Civil Code debates in the eighties and nineties. The UCC model of legislation, we argued, seemed oblivious to the politics of law reform, implementation issues, women’s needs and the Hindu majoritarian agenda. The questions that the Anveshi law intitiative is engaged with are: the conceptual rigidities that attend to translating women’s needs/concerns into governmental categories; the relation between gender/minority/caste and law; and the problems related to the preeminence of the rights framework in thinking and activism around violence.

Ongoing Projects

Current research in the Law Initiative is focused on how the discourse of rights designates the realms of family, community, and religion as subordinate and irrational. In rendering these spaces as pre-modern and anti-woman, the modern rights project pays no attention to women’s actions in mobilizing the critical resources of family and community in alleviating their suffering. An important concern is to problematise the notion of agency demanded of a rights-bearing woman, by the citizenship discourse, in the face of intersecting subjections. A. Suneetha and Vasudha Nagaraj work on this project.

Completed Projects

Institutional Responses to Domestic Violence (2003)

This three-year project investigated the responses of women police stations, family counseling centers, public hospitals and family court to the women facing domestic violence. The project team studied 3 women police stations, a dozen counseling centers/groups, one public hospital in Hyderabad and three family courts. Personnel of these institutions (policemen, counselors/activists, judges and lawyers, doctors) and women accessing these institutions were interviewed as part of this ethnographic study. Important findings of the project are: a) public institutions, especially law, figure only in a minor way in the lives of women dealing with issues of violence; b) women found it useful to access a range of informal institutional set ups ranging from family, kinship, local community networks, caste or women’s groups along with public institutions; c) the problems of access are much more for women without endowments such as caste, class, education, ‘connections’ etc.; and d) apart from the biases of the institutional personnel, women find it most difficult to keep up with the schedules, mandates and requirements of various institutions.

The project team consisted of A. Suneetha (Project Coordinator), Vasudha Nagaraj (Research Associate) and R. Bhagya Lakshmi (Research Associate).

Experiences of the Poor in Revenue Courts (2002)

Drawing from her experiences in the Ibrahimpatnam land rights struggle, Gita Ramaswamy documented the experiences of poor people engaging with the revenue courts for claiming land rights. The two interviews with Satyamma and Yacharam Buddajangaiah reveal the map of scarce resources of legal expertise, finances or contacts with which claimants have accessed the legal system.

Contextualizing Criminality: Convicted Women’s Narratives and Procedures of the Criminal Trial (2002)

This research project by Vasudha Nagaraj juxtaposed the experiences of convicted women and the codes in which the criminal justice system selectively sets up evidence to judge criminality. Women’s narratives made evident the various processes that constitute the legal discourse where the ‘histories’ that mark these women remain outside the courtrooms even as they inflect notions of legality and justice. The criminal trial seems to be a terrain of contesting notions of identity with stated and unstated charges coming up for adjudication.