The Scandal of the State

Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial India

The Scandal of the State

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 5 tables Published: April 2003

Asian Studies > South Asia, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory, Postcolonial Theory

The Scandal of the State is a revealing study of the relationship between the postcolonial, democratic Indian nation-state and Indian women’s actual needs and lives. Well-known for her work combining feminist theory and postcolonial studies, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan shows how the state is central to understanding women’s identities and how, reciprocally, women and “women’s issues” affect the state’s role and function. She argues that in India law and citizenship define for women not only the scope of political rights but also cultural identity and everyday life. Sunder Rajan delineates the postcolonial state in implicit contrast with the “enlightened,” postfeminist neoliberal state in the West. Her analysis wrestles with complex social realities, taking into account the influence of age, ethnicity, religion, and class on individual and group identities as well as the shifting, heterogeneous nature of the state itself.

The Scandal of the State develops through a series of compelling case studies, each of which centers around an incident exposing the contradictory position of the Indian state vis-à-vis its female citizens and, ultimately, the inadequacy of its commitment to women’s rights. Sunder Rajan focuses on the custody battle over a Muslim child bride, the compulsory sterilization of mentally retarded women in state institutional care, female infanticide in Tamilnadu, prostitution as labor rather than crime, and the surrender of the female outlaw Phoolan Devi. She also looks at the ways the Uniform Civil Code presented many women with a stark choice between allegiance to their religion and community or the secular assertion of individual rights. Rich with theoretical acumen and activist passion, The Scandal of the State is a powerful critique of the mutual dependence of women and the state on one another in the specific context of a postcolonial modernity.


“A rewarding, if sobering, discussion of women in the Indian state. . . . Sunder Rajan has made a valuable contribution to state theory by delving into the problematic ways in which women live with the state.” — Sara H. Smith , Environment and Planning D

“A valuable addition to the tiny but growing body of work on the sociology of Indian law. The book is a fine-grained feminist reading of postcolonial Indian citizenship, as revealed in its various failures.” — Kriti Kapila , PoLAR

"The Scandal of the State is, in the best sense of the phrase, a stylish book. The reasoned meticulousness of proposal, analysis and argument ultimately makes its indictment of the Indian state more relentless and persuasive than strident rhetoric could have done. The wisdom and balance of the author's own conclusions and her commitment to praxis make this a feminist document crucially relevant to the times. In a genre that excels in earnestness, but is often less than inviting, its readability is a particularly prized attribute." — Bhaswati Chakravorty , Telegraph India

"The Scandal of the State is one of the most intelligent and cogent analyses of this relationship [between the women's movement and the state]. . . . The importance of this book lies in its clear-sighted examination of women's subject citizenship, and its strength, in its sustained and rigorous analysis of the state's record on it."

— Ritu Menon , The Hindu

"[A]n engaging study. . . . Rajan's . . . critical insights make this book useful to scholars and students of gender in India and to those interested in the postcolonial Indian state. It also will be valuable to readers interested in comparative feminism and the comparative study of postcolonial societies." — Farina Mir , History

"Provocative. . . . As a broad introduction to the dilemmas of feminist approaches to empowerment in a poor country, readers will find the challenging reading rewarding . . ." — Henry F. Carey, Law and Politics Book Review

"An academic text, interspersed with narrative case studies, that explores the problematic status of women as recognized—or, more accurately, not recognized—by the Indian government. The picture is certainly far from pretty, much less bearable, but such a book as this bodes well for a much-needed improved future for women in India."

— Terry Hong , Asian Week

"It is easy to imagine a class in Women's Studies where there is a need for comparing different nation-states of the South, or developed and developing countries. In such a pedagogic scenario, The Scandal of the State would provide all the documentation as well as the major perspectives from India. Moreover, it would very usefully put these into dialogues with Western theoretical discourses." — Ananya Vajpeyi , Chicago South Asia Newsletter

"Sunder Rajan's study [is] an invaluable resource for tracking the discursive limitations of law and women's agency in postcolonial India from the twentieth into the twenty-first century." — Sharleen Mondal and Rahul Gairola , South Asian Review

"The . . . Rajan volume-appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes as well as the specialist in Indian politics-add[s] rich case studies to the well-established field of feminist postcolonial modernity, paving the way for future works to imagine effective feminist resistance." — Paige Johnson Tan , Perspectives on Politics

The Scandal of the State is filled with Rajeswari Sunder Rajan's trademark scrupulousness and full documentation of opposing views, yet also with her characteristic wit and deep political wisdom. Her ultimate indictment of the realities of the Indian state is biting and utterly persuasive. This is a brilliant, pathbreaking book.” — Bruce Robbins, author of Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress

"Utterly specific to postcolonial India and its feminist debates, this book is also a significant contribution to general feminist theory and to the fraught question of the relationship of the postcolonial state to the ‘international civil society.’ Rajeswari Sunder Rajan uses ‘high theory’ occasionally, creatively, critically. All feminists (and, indeed, antifeminists) should read this book, if only to discover the one moment in this sober, meticulously researched, analytical text when political passion breaks through to the vision of a chilling dystopia."
  — Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan is Reader in English and Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. She is the author of Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism and editor of Signposts: Gender Issues in Post-Independence India.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

1. Introduction: Women, Citizenship, Law, and the Indian State 1

I. Women in Custody

2. The Ameena “Case”: The Female Citizen and Subject 41

3. Beyond the Hysterectomies Scandal: Women, the Institution, Family, and State 72

II. Women in Law

4. The Prostitution Question(s): Female Agency, Sexuality, and Work 117

5. Women Between Community and State: Some Implications of the Uniform Civil Code Debates 147

III. Killing Women

6. Children of the State?: Unwanted Girls in Rural Tamilnadu 177

7. Outlaw Woman: The Politics of Phoolan Devi’s Surrender, 1983 212

Notes 237

References 279

Index 301
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3048-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3035-6
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