This research investigates 1) how non-government organized social reform in rural Andhra Pradesh, India makes actionable a state law prohibiting a custom perceived as incommensurable with human dignity and 2) how the objectives of reform are inhabited by former practitioners of this custom. The 1988 Andhra Pradesh Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act outlawed a custom, colloquially known as the jogini system, in which parents and other close kin dedicate young, low caste girls to a village Goddess. The system of sexual patronage that marks the system was understood, by government officials, to be a violation of a woman's dignity by deterring her agency, autonomy, and free will in determining her own sexuality. However, there was no self-recognition of violation from jogini women themselves. Consequently, the law recommended government and non-government initiated reform programs, in order to secure a moral/ethical disposition among jogini women that understands the custom to be a violation of human dignity. Given the discrepancy between jogini and state understandings of violation at the time the law was passed, and the sustained reform efforts among jogini women over the last two decades, this research asks most centrally: in what ways do the everyday languages, practices and dispositions of jogini women engage or acknowledge government and non-government claims that their dedications violate an innate human dignity tied to legal conceptions of rights and citizenship? Though the proposed research will primarily be conducted through ethnographic research, it will be supplemented with two months of Archival Research in Chennai and two months of stuctured interviews with NGO and government officials in Hyderabad. This research will contribute to sholarship about the dissemination of concepts like human dignity, which circulate widely in international human rights discourses, in non- western locales, In addition, it will contribute to anthropological literature on state and law, and prepare the Co-PI to conduct undergraduate courses on the anthropology of human rights, law and state. The research will be distributed widely through academic journall articles and conferences. Moreover, it will serve as a useful body of research for Indian non-governement organization and independent research organizations committed to effecting social change and policy changes through the use of international concepts like human dignity.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Susan Brodie Haire
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Johns Hopkins University
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