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In Search of Security

Vasanth Kannabiran

By Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003, pp. 313, Rs. 595.00


The times in which we live are critical indeed. Never in its history has the nation state come under so much scrutiny and been redefined and refined over again as during the last couple of decades. The withdrawal of the state, its failure in meeting the basic needs of the people, and the expansion of the market has radically altered the conventional meaning of governance as something resting on the state and state policy to one where citizen engagement has emerged as an important factor influencing governance. While it is widely accepted that rights are important to actualize citizenship, the fact that an enabling environment is needed to actualize these rights and the recognition that rights are embedded in socio-cultural regional identities that contour the actual practice of citizenship are realities that demand attention. Identities are particularly crucial to the experience and practice of citizenship even more so when certain groups of citizens are excluded and stigmatized because of their attributes, exclusions which are contextual and selective in nature. In looking at women’s citizen-ship claims, their politics, and their exclusion over the last century it becomes evident that most categorizations only distort the feminist praxis of citizenship as it has evolved over the last decades.   Whether it is in relation to community, family or state institutions what is the message that is reiterated in the process? The exclusion of women from citizenship far from being an aber-ration is integral to its practice, with women’s labour and participation being subsumed into the private sphere. This in spite of the fact that the public-private divide is constantly shifting and being renegotiated according to specific historical and cultural contexts. Citizenship then is not only about women’s agency, or the structural constraints women seeking citizenship rights confront, but also about the interplay between the two.   Kristeva’s remark that believing oneself a woman is obscurantist while “we are women” has relevance as a slogan, underlines the often conflicting layers of identities that complicate our understanding and practice of citizenship. As “Indian women” then it becomes critical to sift these identities stripping them as we alternately interrogate and negotiate our practice of citizenship with the state.   Rajeswari Sunder Rajan in The Scandal of the State: Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial India looks at the transactions between women and the Indian state charting their tortuous path through a series of issues that ...

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