Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Poulami Roychowdhury ─ Outsourced Justice: Governing Gender Violence in India's Era of Rights Mobilizations

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

Over the past three decades, women’s rights against violence have become heavily politicized in India. Diverse organizations weigh in on legal cases, providing financial, social, and political support to survivors and alleged perpetrators. Using data gathered through twenty-six months of participant observation with survivors, activists, and law enforcement personnel, this talk examines the consequences of these movements.

My research showed that politicization of individual cases does not improve survivors’ chances of receiving formal legal remedies, but it does have significant extra-legal consequences. Facing organized pressure, under-resourced and over-extended law enforcement personnel outsourced regulatory duties to civil society groups and to survivors themselves.

Using these findings, this talk builds a more general theory of rights struggles in developing, post-colonial contexts where democratic politics butts heads with limited states. I argue that within these conditions, rights mobilizations affirm a vicious cycle of state neglect while opening new risky spaces for women’s political and social assertions.


Poulami Roychowdhury is an assistant professor in the sociology department at McGill University.

Her research examines the relationship between politics, law, and social inequality. Her forthcoming book, Capable Citizens (Oxford University Press) traces the aftermath of legal reforms and political mobilization against gender-based violence in India. Other projects include:masculinity, ethnicity,and labor organizing in New York City, and media coverage of sexual violence. She is currently working on a new project, comparing the evolution and contestation over sexual consent in the United States and France.

Her research has been supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Fonds de Recherche du Québec, the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, and the American Institute for Indian Studies. Prior to joining McGill, she was a Five College pre-doctoral fellow at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

She serves as associate editor of social politics and a council member for the ASA's development section.

Development and Governance Seminar