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Mona Das

Edited by Kalpana Kannabiran
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2014, pp. 324, Rs. 434.00


‘Personal is political’—a revolutionary slogan of the women’s movement summed up the felt need for state intervention in what was considered as private/domestic sphere. This gendered unequal private sphere was where women faced the worst forms of discrimination and violence and relations within the public space were a reflection of it. In India, the central focus of the feminist movement has been ‘negotiations around law and justice delivery for women’. Feminist campaigns have focussed on making demands on the Indian state to legislate in ‘favour’ of its women citizens. As a result of this many laws have been passed in the last three decades. However, when we talk of women and law it is not just restricted to these women-centred laws dealing with rape, dowry, sati, entitlements etc. but as Kalpana Kannabiran, the editor points out, it is about the ‘violence of an unequal social order and more importantly, law’s violence.’ The book in its thematic scope is expansive; divided into eleven chapters it covers a wide range of issues organically linked to women’s lives. With the exception of adivasi and Muslim women—that too in the context of forest rights and identity issues respectively—this book does not classify women into categories of class and caste. At one level women’s experiences with law or state’s conception of a woman may be similar across groups but on scratching the surface disparities come to the fore. This book definitely misses out on the fact and doesn’t take into account divergences in women’s experiences of law based on their social location.  The authors are drawn from diverse backgrounds: legal experts, feminist scholars, civil rights activists. There is a disparity in the book in terms of quality of academic research and arguments made. Like most edited books this one has some very interesting chapters with certain novelty about the themes and arguments and then there are those one has heard time and again.  The chapter on ‘Pre-natal Diagnosis: Where Do We Draw the Line’ by Anita Ghai and Rachna Johri poses a very interesting question: The contestation between women’s right to abort and right to life of fetuses diagnosed as potentially disabled. While, sex-selective abortion is illegal there is legitimization of abortion of potentially disabled fetuses by the PNDT Act.   Their empirical research amongst mothers of disabled children proves that one of the ...

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