Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

2021 Prize Recipients

CCSA Undergraduate Paper Prize

Srinaath Kidambi Perangur 
Bhakti and Bhāva: A Brief History and Ethnography

CCSA Thesis Prize in South Asian Studies

Anchita Dasgupta 
Beit Sourik and Kunan Poshpora: Reimagining Agency in Legal Resistance Movements.

Abstract: The law is a weapon of the state used to inflict violence upon those who oppose the state. Yet, there is an unexplained proclivity among those most marginalized by the law’s violence to employ the law for emancipation. This apparent paradox of using law to resist the institution of law has been attributed to a range of factors including the resistor’s dependence on the oppressive state for basic sustenance. At the same time, such an ethically incongruent relationship between resistance and law often renders the law more powerful by ascribing to it a false sense of legitimacy as an effective and therefore employable means of justice for the marginalized. This thesis argues that such a myopic vision of legal resistance is an unwarranted denial of agency to a specific, and intentional act of resistance. This stems from an internal iteration of the colonial irreverence of legal resistance, and its subsequent perception as an unthreatening and therefore irrelevant means of resistance. This in turn accentuates theories of subaltern law that argue resistance is a layered series of power dichotomies rather than an insular and collective opposition to a monolithic power. This relatively new premise in the field of subaltern studies has revolved primarily around questions of economic assertion through the law in South Asia. In this thesis, two legal cases from Kashmir and Palestine, concerning issues of political identity, are cast in the same mold. Beit Sourik, a legal case situated in the West Bank that argues against Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land is juxtaposed against a legal case surrounding Kunan Poshpora, a public interest petition against the state cover up of a mass military rape perpetrated by the Indian army in Indian ‘administered’ Kashmir. Both cases, despite their disparate geographic, political, and historical contexts, offer a striking parallel on the emancipatory employment of the law. In both cases, the law is found to work in tandem with rather than in opposition to political protest. In both cases, the subaltern legal resistor is found to exercise a distinct political agency that seeks to prioritize a particular goal, whether it is wrangling compensation from the occupation system, or exposing the violence of the occupier’s criminal justice machine to the rest of the world. Ultimately, through legal resistance in these two cases, the hypothesis of subaltern legal theory is established in the context of political movements. Thus, the paradox is dismissed as a superficial critique of resistance, questions regarding power structures within resistance movements are stirred, and agency in resistance is reimagined as inconsistent, complex, and contradictory. Read Anchita's full thesis.