(2010) JLP 60: 41-72
Mengia Hong Tschalaer
By studying the actual functioning of an unusual new ‘tribal’ women’s forum this paper analyses how poor women of the Meena community in rural south Rajasthan reshape the complex landscape of legal pluralism in rural India. Based on empirical material, collected during six months of field research, the paper examines whether, how and to what extent gender equality and gender justice can be realised in a new hybrid legal body such as the “Social Reform Committee”. The case study cautions against the evaluation of institutions such as this based on western liberal or feminist criteria. It argues that the struggle in the establishment of individual rights and gender equality have to be seen in a context where women’s lives are intertwined with their families and communities, and where abstract citizenship rights do not exist. A focus on legal pluralism offers an opportunity to explore the formulation of alternative norms and the use of new institutional arenas in current attempts to transform gender relations. A body like the women’s forum presents an accessible local arena for the negotiation of gender-just reforms. It is equally an innovative alternative to ‘modern’, expensive and ineffective state courts as well as to corrupt and male-dominated ‘traditional’ caste councils (pânchayats).