Zealous Reformers, Deadly Laws

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This book by one of the pioneers of the contemporary women’s rights movement in India combines insights gathered from deep engagement with the lives and coping strategies of ordinary women. With first hand knowledge of the workings of legislation and the law enforcement machinery in India, the author attempts to explain why laws enacted for the ostensible purpose of strengthening women’s rights end up producing such dismal results. These essays exemplify a tenacious, logical, and sincere effort to understand what measures of reform work or don’t work in the real world and the author’s willingness to revise and refine her own assumptions and interventions in order to synchronize with the requirements and aspirations of India’s diverse women.
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Editorial Reviews


The author writes lucidly and avoids academic jargon. This is a valuable book both for scholars of women’s studies as well as for laypersons interested in women’s issues.

The Hindu

Kishwar's tome is as much for the sceptic as for the realist. It has a lesson in rationalism for those who feel that laws are often toothless when it comes to fighting injustice. It also offers enough meat for a rationalist to chew on. Not only because it offers realistic solutions to issues concerning our society, but because it is sincere in stressing the need for real reform and is an honest attempt to look within the world of activism Kishwar is familiar with for almost three decades now.

Freedom First

A very exhaustive work and provides useful insights into social issues. It will benefit a wide readership including students, lawyers, journalists, the general reader and scholars of gender studies.... A must read for all concerned with gender issues.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761936374
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications
  • Publication date: 9/18/2008
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Madhu Purnima Kishwar is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. The founder of Manushi Sangathan, an organization committed to strengthening democratic rights and women’s rights in India, she is also the founder editor of Manushi—A Journal about Women and Society. Her research at CSDS, focused on the theme ‘Laws, Liberty and Livelihoods,’ is aimed at giving a pro-poor direction to economic reforms in India. She is also the Director of the Indic Studies Project and Convenor of International Conferences on Religions and Cultures in the Indic Civilization.

Kishwar has authored several books including Deepening Democracy: Challenges of Governance and Globalization in India (2005); Off the Beaten Track: Rethinking Gender Justice for Indian Women (1999) and Religion at the Service of Nationalism (1998), translated into Hindi as Rashtriyata ki Chakri Mein Dharm (2005). Much of her writing is based on her active interventions on various issues.

She has made several documentary films on varied themes including the culture of dowry; the disinheritance of women from family property; anti-liquor movements in India; state policies that have contributed to the improvement of traditional technologists in India; and License-Quota-Raid Raj affecting the livelihood of street vendors and rickshaw pullers.

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Table of Contents

From Manusmriti to Madhusmriti: Flagellating a Mythical Enemy
Deadly Laws and Zealous Reformers: The Conflicting Interpretations and Politics of Sati
Naive Outpourings Of a Self-Hating Indian: Deepa Mehtàs Fire
Allies or Adversaries? The Continuing Hold of Traditional Female Moral Exemplars in India
Learning to take People Seriously
Dowry: To Ensure Her Happiness or to Disinherit Her?
Using Women as a Pretext for Censorship: The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Bill
Wome&ngrave;s Organizations I: Vengeance Squads, Firefighters or Counsellors?
Wome&ngrave;s Organizations II: The Pressure of Unrealistic Expectations
Laws Against Domestic Violence: Underused or Abused?
Well-intentioned but Over Ambitious: A Review of the New Domestic Violence Act
Destined to Fail: Inherent Flaws in the Anti-dowry Legislation
Toiling without Rights: The Ho Women of Singhbhum
Inheritance Rights for Women: A Response to Some Commonly Expressed Fears
Nature of Wome&ngrave;s Mobilisation in Rural India
The Logic of Quotas: Wome&ngrave;s Movement Splits on the Reservation Bill
Indian Politics: Encourages Durgas, Snubs Women
Enhancing Wome&ngrave;s Representation in Legislatures: An Alternative to the Government Bill for Wome&ngrave;s Reservation
Lack of Gender Solidarity: Systematic Degrading of Women Politicians
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