ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Citizenship and Women’s Agency

On the Responsibility of Calibration

Gendered Citizenship: Understanding Gendered Violence in Democratic India by Natasha Behl, New York: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp xi + 172, price not indicated.


Natasha Behl’s crisp volume, Gendered Citizenship: Understanding Gendered Violence in Democratic India, seeks to contribute to the discussion on women’s religious collectivisation and citizenship in the context of Punjab. The central focus in the book is on women’s unequal experience of citi­zenship and their attempts to negotiate with this inequality. Behl seeks to establish a “line of sight” on sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) of varying intensities, ranging from the heinous sexual assault and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012 to the constraints on women’s religious practice gleaned also through the author’s own experience in Punjab. The book argues that while such violence may not appear comparable in terms of their intensities, there exists a common logic, of denying women full democratic participation in public spaces, that is at play in each of these instances, rendering citizenship an incomplete or even risky project for all women in ­India. Behl advances the framework of “situated citizenship” to explicate the gap that exi­sts between the formal imagination and actual existence of citizenship, and terms the lived reality that results from such situatedness as “exclusionary inclusion.”

Organised into six chapters, the volume seeks to integrate some debates on the failed promise of citizenship for marginalised sections, on the lacunae within mainstream political science in understanding the everyday operation of citizenship, and on women’s agency in dealing with constraints imposed by the state as well as the community. The first two chapters establish the conceptual and methodological backdrop of the study, wherein the author makes a case for situated citizenship as a methodolo­gical approach to overcome the gender blindness of mainstream literature on citizenship and democratisation. Chapter 3 reviews some literature on the relationship between the state, law, and religion in India and points out how women’s bodies have often been the sites of this contest. The chapter provides an overview of the rape and murder of Singh in 2012 and examines state and ­judicial responses to it. It also carries the responses of some legislators and office bearers of certain political parties to the incident, which highlight rampant patriarchy. By using these to establish the failure of legislative and constitutional mechanisms to ensure women’s freedom, Behl advances the case for examining religion as a site of potential demo­cracy for women.

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Updated On : 24th Apr, 2021
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