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Individual Agency, Tradition and the State

Priya Naik

By Perveez Mody
Routledge, London, 2008, pp. 308, Rs.695.00


In a court complex in New Delhi, Tis Hazari, room number 137C is a rare liminal space where India's colonial past, intimacy, marriage, norms, love and law collide and merge. It is here that the secular freedom to marry afforded by the 1872 Civil Marriage Act is utilized by couples in love. To marry under the Civil Marriage Act in India is an action, replete with multiple meanings: first, to forego loyalty to one's community, to affirm the autonomy of the modern liberal citizen and finally to forge a new kinship. However, this modern drama is not devoid of melodrama, and it is at this point that the state emerges as an intimate being. Mody's The Intimate State is an anthropo-logical study of the parallel universes of the individual, community and the state, which intersect in the legal space provided by the state. This presents a fresh challenge to norms of marital love which is traditionally between communities, not individuals. Placed within a dense theoretical framework of the sociology of marriage in India, Mody's meticulous research is based on a rigorous series of interviews with lovers, lawyers, auto-drivers, families and the 'public', broadly between 1997 and 2007. The Intimate State presents a full-bodied account of the anxiety of modernity in a postcolonial state, the strain between indivi-dual agency and tradition, and finally, the invasive intimacy of the state. The work is centrally concerned with how the contours of love and desire are shaped by the institutions of the state. In four engrossing chapters, Mody lays out the colonial process of rupture and reconfiguration beginning with the passage of the 1872 Civil Marriage Act. The second examines the animation this legislation sets in motion, by sanctioning the individua-listic act of choosing one's partner, of arranging one's conjugality oneself and breaking away from community. This passage of estrangement to marital union is mapped in the third chapter on the ethnography of the 'marriage room', where these civil marriages are solemnized. The third chapter looks at the adventurous acts of agency, where individuals use ingenious methods to negotiate with the community and the law to achieve this most 'unholy union', as it were. The last chapter is an anthropological analysis of agency in love marriages, where the multiple issues of personhood, agency and the community are examined. In the genealogical emergence of the individual in modern India, the 1872 Civil Marriage Act is an instrumental facilitator. Under this ...

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