Academic Research

Inequality, Social Movements, and State

Dissertation: Framing Entitlements, Framing Inequality: How State Policies on Food and Care Enable Women to Challenge or Adapt to Inequality

An Anganwadi teacher takes a child back home at the end of the day.

This dissertation examines the role state-society dynamics play in influencing how people negotiate inequality. In particular, I analyze the interdependent relationship between state policies and the frames people use to interpret unequal access to food and care. While state policies shape people’s frames, people also negotiate with state policies to deploy frames that either challenge or adapt to inequality. Using in-depth observations, policy documents, and 50 semi-structured interviews with mothers, Anganwadi workers (childcare workers), union leaders, and state representatives associated with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), a welfare program in India, I show that state-society dynamics are central to how inequality is sustained and challenged.

When welfare policies encourage collectivization, disadvantaged groups appropriate policy frames to strengthen entitlement frames and in the process, challenge inequality. I refer to this mechanism as frame appropriation. In contrast, policies such as privatization encourage individualization, particularly in economically mobile groups, who then adapt to neoliberal frames such as personal responsibility and choice, to weaken entitlement frames through a mechanism I call neoliberal adaptation. Thus, alongside social movements that has made possible historically significant policy reforms, the path to social change also comes alive in daily interactions where policies mediate people’s everyday lives.

Considering how continuous public demand can improve government services, such weakening of entitlement claims may affect the overall quality of the service provided by the state, affecting the poor and marginalized groups who cannot afford to access private options.

Related to my dissertation topic, my recent work has also focused on social movements related to food rights in India which resulted in a co-authored paper published in 2015.

Gender, Violence, and State

Besides my dissertation work, I have an on-going project on domestic violence in India, that complements my interest in state society engagement for social change.

In this project, which emerged from my Master’s work at Purdue University, I examined case decisions of the Supreme Court of India on 217 domestic violence cases for the period 1995-2014.

Two co-authored papers (paper 1 and paper 2) from this project have been published. In these papers, we examine the role of the family and the court in addressing domestic violence in India. We show how women are unable to seek support either from their natal family or the law when faced with violence in their marital homes.
In Chart 1, we demonstrate the distressing statistic where, in 73% of the cases, the woman had already died even before the domestic violence case had been filed.

In Chart 2, we show the variations in the verdicts based on whether the woman is deceased or alive. Thus, when the victim is dead, the verdict is favorable to the woman’s family in 66% of the case. However, when the victim is alive, only 49% of the cases have favorable verdicts for the woman and her family.
My co-author and I are preparing another paper that seeks to explain this variation by focusing on the court’s interpretation of gender as they adjudicate these cases. Through an examination of the content of the law and its gendered interpretation in the judiciary, we discuss how women experience state institutions.

Moving forward, I intend to study the evolving legal framework in India, especially the enactment of the recent domestic violence law in 2005 which has ramifications for gender justice as women utilize the law to seek justice.

Related to this project, I was the second author on a paper elucidating the role of the Indian women’s movement in state policy making regarding domestic violence laws that was published in 2014.