ANR Programme 2009-2013
image of courtroom
A Joint Programme on Justice and Governance in India and South Asia
(Hosted by Centre for Himalayan Studies)



Part of the fieldwork will focus on the ethnography of law courts and will be conducted not only in South Asia but also in countries of the Indian Diaspora which have recently imported Indian "solutions" of mediation for settling disputes among South Asian peoples.

In India, fieldwork will be especially carried out in lower courts – from the District level downwards. Indeed, contrary to the higher judiciary, where the role of judges is more that of "conceptive ideologist" (R. Dhavan), judges from low courts directly interact with ordinary people and are involved on a daily basis with the meticulous official recording of witnesses' evidence. These law-oriented settings, where hierarchy and codes of behaviour are based on official roles and bureaucratic formalities, provide a variety of contexts and situations where one may observe the interactions between state power and local society at work in routine practice.

These courts, although set up in India at the time of the British administration, are today part of the everyday life of both urban and village people and have spread throughout the country, even to the smallest towns or district headquarters. Each of them forms what is often called a 'Justice Court Complex', a specific area which includes different courtrooms and the open-air court compound, where lawyers meet their clients, and where litigants or witnesses sit or stare, while waiting to be summoned. Also sometimes found adjacent to the Court Complex are the prosecutor's offices, the police station and in some towns even the jail.

The ethnography of trial hearings will allow to come into contact with cases at the very time they are officially recorded, when all the complexity of people's interactions and emotions are reduced to some pages of judiciary reasoning and technical vocabulary. Another kind of fieldwork will be more concerned with the historical dimension of cases, by looking at court records, and by collecting the memories and multiple points of view of those who have been involved -present-day plaintiffs (or their descendants), witnesses and local people remembering the cases.

Five sections

The project will include five different sections, each focusing on cases related to similar issues. Each section will be composed by scholars specialized in Indian society and already competent on issues related to the case. For each section, there will be a small sub-group which will be coordinated by one scholar, but members may participate in more than one section.

  • Criminal cases
  • Natural resources management and environment policies
  • Religion and the State
  • Fundamental and constitutional rights
  • Conflict of laws in transnational cases