Academic Research

Inequality, Social Movements, and State

Dissertation: Framing Inequality, Framing Entitlements: Dynamics of State Policies and Local Inequities in Women’s Claims for Food, Nutrition, and Pre-school Care

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

Scholars have examined resistance to neoliberalism, but little is known about women’s claims-making in the context of contested neoliberalism.

My dissertation examines how women, whose lives are shaped by distinctions of caste and class, claim their entitlement to welfare services from state institutions, especially in the context of contested neoliberalism in India.

Drawing on social movement theory, particularly frames, and intersectionality, I propose two concepts – Frame appropriation and Reactive adoption.

I argue that welfare initiatives enable women to claim basic needs as entitlements. While doing so, they strategically adapt frames espoused by dominant actors to challenge unequal gender and caste relations, what I call frame appropriation.

In contrast, increasing privatization results in other women (marginally better SES) uncritically adopting neoliberal frames that exacerbate gender, caste, and class inequality what I call reactive adoption.

I studied India’s welfare program, Integrated Child Development Services(ICDS), which provides food, nutrition, and care for children and mothers through local centers (Anganwadis) managed by women workers. Based on five months of ethnographic fieldwork in rural Tamil Nadu, I utilize observations and 50 semi-structured interviews with mothers, Anganwadi workers, union leaders (from Anganwadi workers union), and state representatives to delineate how different state policies – privatization and welfare policies – at higher levels influence how different groups of women interpret (frame) their entitlements for basic services at the local level.

I find that some women engage in frame appropriation as they adapt narratives in employment rights policies and the ICDS initiative to deploy the frame ‘entitlement to care’, a radical frame in a context where women are assumed to be natural caregivers.

In contrast, as the state encourages private pre-school services, other women (marginally better SES) engage in reactive adoption as they uncritically adopt neoliberal frames such as ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘choice’, rather than demand food and care for their children from the state.

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.

Contrary to calls for privatizing welfare services, this study demonstrates how state intervention in welfare paves the path for radical entitlement claims and consequently, social change.

These findings also provide insights into how dynamics between state policies and women’s entitlement claims may have implications for addressing food insecurity in India.

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.