Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Beatrice Jauregui ─ Beatings, Beacons, and Big Men: Police Disempowerment and Delegitimation in India

Friday, November 1, 2013

2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

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"Beatings, Beacons, and Big Men: Police Disempowerment and Delegitimation in India," with Beatrice Jauregui, Cambridge University.

It is a popular truism that police in India generally lack legitimate authority and public trust. This lack is widely understood by scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners as being rooted in the institution’s colonial development as a means of oppression, and its alleged corruption and criminalization in the postcolonial period. The social facts of situational hyper-empowerment and widespread decadence of police do much to explain their poor image and performance; but these explanations do not account for the fact that police in India are also structurally disempowered by cultural-political and legal-institutional claims to multiple and conflicting forms of authority that challenge and often overwhelm the authority of police. This structural disempowerment and its performances in everyday interactions between the police and the public constitute an ongoing social process of delegitimation of police authority in contemporary India. Following ethnographic analysis of this process of delegitimation, I explore the implications of focusing on police disempowerment for theorizations of the sources and capabilities of state legal authority more generally.

Center for Contemporary South Asia