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 'Wizards at Making a Virtue of Necessity': Street Vendors in India

-Abhayraj Naik

Street vending is ambivalent in India’s imagination of law, space, and self. This essay attempts to excavate street vending in India as an interstice: an enquiry directed towards how street vending is entangled with specific theoretical and ideological positions concerning culture, citizenship, commodification, consumption, globalization, legality, modernity, neoliberalism, poverty, politics, public space, and social movements. The focus of my excavation of interstitial street vending in India is twofold. First, a methodological front-staging of the interconnections between law, space and time in India. Second, an acknowledgment of the importance of revisionist accounts of Indian modernity; accounts that note emergent politics of urban space and the city while avoiding seductive binary reductionisms of public/private, inside/outside, formal/informal, legal/illegal, planned/unplanned, liberal/socialist, colonial/post-colonial, and modern/obsolete. While this essay focuses on an admittedly eclectic range of themes and categories of analysis, the hope is that the reader is nonetheless left with a sense of what is at stake and what must be considered in ongoing discussions on market reforms, public space, urbanism, informality and urban street vending in India.

The Politics of Financial Regulation

In a world where the dominant dynamic of economic regulation is one of deregulation,1 financial-sector standards such as prudential regulations, accounting standards, as well as the regulation of corruption, securities, and money laundering have been ratcheted up and most countries have complied meekly. Why? 

The answer to this question lies in the ‘how’. This paper argues that the increasing currency of global standards and regulations are an indication of the pervasive nature of control exercised by the regulators. By setting up a protective, technicality-centred discourse around financial regulation, the regulators characterise it as an essentially technical and apolitical matter, and use the characterisation to infer legitimacy for themselves as disinterested and skilled technicians. It is argued that the nature of regulation – the structuring of a regulatory web, the governance structures of regulatory institutions, as well as the enforcement mechanisms deployed – preclude any meaningful accountability. This paper submits that this control is symptomatic of a new kind of political control and contends that its aims must be interrogated.

Legal reform attempts in India have frequently grappled with the problem of providing access to justice to rural litigants. In the early years of the Indian republic, the now infamous Nyaya Panchayats were tasked with this responsibility. These institutions were motivated by a desire to recreate an ‘indigenous’, panchayat based model of dispute resolution, but had more or less died out by the late 1970s. In 2008, the Parliament of India made a renewed attempt to address this problem through the passage of the Gram Nyayalaya Act, intended to result in the setting up of over 5,000 Gram Nyayalayas across the country. This article compares these two institutions to see whether Gram Nyayalayas make the same mistakes as their ill-fated forebears, or whether they do in fact represent a new approach to the problem of access to justice for rural litigants in India. This analysis reveals that Gram Nyayalayas differ substantially from Nyaya Panchayats, and in fact share far more similarities with the formal court system than to any poorly specified ideas of indigenous dispute resolution.

The article assesses and compares the behaviour of India’s higher judiciary on Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) cases with the pattern of rulings on previous preventive detention and anti-terror laws in India. It tests the hypothesis in Scaling Justice: India’s Supreme Court, Anti-Terror Laws and Social Rights, that POTA cases would see more pro-state rulings, particularly after incidents of terrorism, but that Muslim minorities would not be unduly targeted by the judges. The findings from the 103 POTA cases affirm the hypothesis that the judgments of the high court and the Supreme Court do not exhibit a pattern of disfavouring Muslim accused. However, a more disquieting element with worrisome consequences for civil liberties is apparent in the framing of the anti-terror cases. The court is more likely to rule in favour of the state when a case is framed as ‘Islamic terrorism’. The impreciseness of this and other terms such as ‘urgency’ and ‘security threat’ have expanded the scope of the application of anti-terror laws, diluted the ‘due process’ protections, and reduced the ability of judges to make a distinction between the political aspirations and the religious affiliation of the accused. This has diluted the procedural and substantive protection for civil liberties of citizens and vulnerable minorities in India.

-Shylasri Shankar

Notes From The Field

Colonial courts are seen as places of action for the “two-facedness of colonial law” wherein the British sought to introduce Universalist principles of adjudication, such as the ‘Rule of Law’, yet also appeased the native legal conservatives and traditionalists who formed the dominant class. It is realized that in this process the narratives of colonized subalterns- of adivasis, dalits, gender and religious minorities are often found to be lost. In a quest to find their voices and to register their claims, revisiting our legal history is necessary; but has been made impossible due to an inexcusable neglect of legal proceedings documentation. The author provides a detailed first-hand account of the disheartening condition of archival sections in the Bombay, Calcutta and Madras High Courts, which have been witnesses to the legal process in the sub-continent for over a century and a half. A case is then made out for digitization of colonial court records to ensure their longer sustainability for the future and ensuring possibilities for further research.

Book Review

The lack of concerted methodological critique is a significant failing of international law scholarship. Critical international lawyers (“the Crits”) aim to question and destabilize the inaccurate assumptions behind international law, which have slowly become deeply entrenched as truths. The Crits believe in the “absence of a central international legal order as an impartial point to which state actors can refer” and in a “mature anarchy in international relations (and) the recognition of states as independent centres of legal culture and significance…”

In Critical International Law, Prabhakar Singh and Benoît Mayer bring together different scholars of this postmodern tradition who carefully re-envision international law as it stands today. The scholars address three areas that have been systematically neglected in mainstream international law discourse and writing, and thus remain unexplored; post-realism, post-colonialism, and transnationalism.

This review will begin with an overview of the articles in the Critical International Law. Subsequently, this review will raise three points of analysis: internal differences in opinions in the book, the role of international law scholars, and the scope of the premise of the book.

-Ashwita Ambast

Contents of Volume 11(1)


-Shishir Bail

-Sanaa Ahmed

-Kriti Sharma

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