Through the Lens of Law: Power and Society in India

International Workshop

Session Court. Shimla, 2010, D. Berti

The Just-India programme, which has been funded for four years by the ANR, will hold its last International Workshop in Paris, on January 7-8, 2013.

For anthropologists as well as for historians, law practices and their discursive productions provide a way of studying tensions between lofty ideals such as neutrality, objectivity, equality, secularism, and everyday life interactions and decisions where cultural, social, and political factors play a major role. It is also an area where cultural transformations and social reforms result not so much from a party or a political leader’s ideological programme as from specific decisions taken within a framework of concepts, categories and proceedings, the technicality of which is barely understood outside the professional sphere.

Although this is common to all legal contexts, and especially to a common law context, it comes across even more clearly in a post-colonial society like India, where both legal acts and rules of proceedings were initially introduced and formulated by people from a different social and historical context. Since Independence, this complex judiciary machine has been taken over by the Indian elite and made into one of the most powerful tools of governance in the country. It aims at regulating a society which nevertheless remains largely based on local servitudes of religion, gender, age, and caste status, and on territorial, kinship and feudal allegiances – which are all highly coercive mechanisms through which authority is still exercised at rural level.

Since its inception, the Just-India project has aimed at studying these interactions between the state and local society through the lens of law, while taking into account the commitments that India has made both at national and international level – as regards, for example, the legal protection of “underprivileged” groups, its environmental policy, narcotics control, and human rights. These interactions may trigger conflicts or misunderstandings, whenever the state’s commitment goes against local forms of relationships or against local economic or political interests; or they may cause reciprocal adjustments and adaptations whenever the state or society strives to seek alternative solutions or negotiations.

From this perspective, over the last four years, the members of our project have developed ethnographies of court cases and of deliberations at local level, and have studied case reports and narratives in order to understand judicial processes within their broader social context, as tools of governance. It has been our assumption that the details of people’s interactions, verbal exchanges and power relationships point to the ways in which state power is specifically implemented. This workshop is the opportunity to take stock of some of the results of these studies, and to reflect on possible research in the future.

G. Tarabout and D. Berti

[Click here for the programme (updated 7 Jan. 2013: with full abstracts).]

For more information:


Cite this blog post
Nicolas Sihlé (2012, December 31). Through the Lens of Law: Power and Society in India. The Himalayas and beyond. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from

Nicolas Sihlé

Nicolas Sihlé, a sociocultural anthropologist, is researcher at the Center for Himalayan Studies, a research unit of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) based in Villejuif (France). He specializes on Tibetan religion and society, and is the author of Rituels bouddhiques de pouvoir et de violence : La figure du tantriste tibétain [Buddhist rituals of power and violence : The figure of the Tibetan tantrist] (Brepols, 2013). His current work focuses on post-Mao socioreligious transitions in and around the famous communities of non-monastic specialists of tantric Buddhism in northeast Tibet (Amdo), and more generally on the comparative anthropology of Buddhism.

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1 Response

  1. Nicolas Sihlé says:

    Please note that the updated programme, with full abstracts, can now be downloaded from the link above.

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