“Indian Feminisms, Law Reform and the Law Commission of India: Special Issue in Honour of Lotika Sarkar”
Guest Editors: Rukmini Sen & Saptarshi Mandal[*]
CALL FOR PAPERS
Whether in terms of concrete statutory changes or as a discursive space for articulating new meanings, law reform has been an important political objectives for the Indian feminist movements.
In pursuing that goal, the Law Commission has been a key institution that feminists in India have engaged with, influenced, used its recommendations for advocacy with other institutions of the state and at times, also rejected them.
Be it the introduction of the offence of ‘dowry death’ in the Indian Penal Code, the proposal for gender neutral rape law, liberalizing divorce law by incorporating ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a ground for divorce, spelling out the rights and obligations of parties in a surrogacy contract or whether section 498A of the Indian Penal Code should be made a compoundable offence, the formulations and recommendations of the Law Commission have sometimes generated support, sometimes controversies and sometimes have opened new directions for feminists and caused new alliances to be forged.
Despite its relevance for feminists, critical evaluation of the Law Commission as an institution or its reports[*][*], from a feminist perspective, is rare.
The only such study that exists was conducted by Prof. Lotika Sarkar, in 1988, as part of a larger initiative focused on ‘National Specialized Agencies and Women’s Equality’. On the effectiveness of the Commission, Sarkar wrote,
[w]hile the prestige of this professional body depends on its performance; its effectiveness certainly lies outside its own choices, between keeping faith with the spirit, or ideology of the Constitution, and what it perceives as immediate political imperatives. (…) Law reform is not a task to be undertaken in haste, by amateurs who are not in a position to examine the full implications and ramification of an existing or proposed measure. The need for a review body of experts, to advise the government, parliament and the public is self-evident. But the conditions, under which the body can function effectively and meaningfully, require critical examination by all who believe in the rule of law and its role as instrumental of social transformation (1988:xxiii).
How has the Law Commission responded to the feminist law reform initiatives in the twenty five years since the above was written and how effective have the interventions of the Commission been in furthering those initiatives?
Given the changes that have taken place in our understanding of the state in the intervening years, what will be our assessment of the Commission today?
Is there a pattern in the recommendations of the Commission that have been accepted by the government and legislated upon, and the ones that have not?
Is the Commission still politically relevant for Indian feminist movements? Our understanding of what issues are feminist issues has changed significantly since the eighties.
In her study, Sarkar focused on reports of the Commission that were ‘women specific’ and the ones that dealt with Family Laws affecting women.
Today however we understand that feminists cannot afford to ‘do’ gender without simultaneously doing caste, religion or sexuality.
In what new ways then, could we read the Commission’s reports addressing women?
And what feminist readings could we offer, if any, of those reports that seemingly have got nothing to do with women, say for instance, the 193rd report on the law of limitation in transnational litigation?
For this Special Issue of the Journal of Indian Law and Society, we seek contributions from scholars, researchers and activists, reflecting on the above and other similar questions, that will not only update our understanding of a law reform institution that feminists in India have historically engaged with, but also help revitalize scholarship on feminist legal method and feminist pedagogic practices in Indian legal education.
Lotika Sarkar, who passed away in February 2013, was a law professor at Delhi University in addition to being a founding member of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies and the Indian Association of Women’s Studies.
She was a member of the Committee on the Status of Women (Government of India) that produced the historic ‘Towards Equality’ report in 1974.
She is probably best known and remembered as one of the four signatories to the Open Letter written to the Chief Justice of India, post the Mathura judgment in 1979.
It is only fitting to dedicate this Special Issue on the Law Commission to her memory, for it seeks to build upon and continue a line of enquiry that she pioneered twenty five years ago.
Contributors should email a 500 word abstract to the addresses provided below by 8th March, 2014.
We welcome contributors to discuss their ideas with the Editors prior to sending the abstracts.
Shortlisted contributors will be informed by 30th March, 2014.
Submission of full papers (8000 words) is expected by 31st October, 2014.
It is imperative that contributors stick to the deadline, so that there is sufficient time for peer review and incorporation of feedback.
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