Compassion, Female Victimhood and Abortion Legalization in Postcolonial India: Tracing Epistemic Heterogeneity in Abortion Politics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

This paper provides a revised history of an understudied event in the trajectory of Indian political modernity - the moment of the legalization of abortion in 1971. The existing scholarship on the event reads it as one that was motivated purely by a developmentalist vision of a modernizing postcolonial elite, to the extent that the latter regarded increases in human numbers as hindrance to economic growth and identified abortion-legalization as a key solution to this quandary. While merited, such interpretations do not account for the varied techniques of persuasion mobilized by the parliamentarians/ lawmakers responsible for debating the laws. With the help of extensive archival analysis of the parliamentary debates, the paper shows how the modes of reasoning put forth in these debates were not always pegged to a developmentalist paradigm but rather made unequivocal use of a heterogeneous idiom of “compassion” for the woman, victimized by male irresponsibility, to ground its case. The lawmakers’ mobilization of this concept further recognized that the victimized pregnant woman’s standpoint is epistemically inaccessible/ incommensurable to those who are responsible for adjudicating on the act of abortion. An acknowledgement of this incommensurability between the knowledge that the two parties hold, became the foundation for compassion. In the process of elucidating the use of the idiom of compassion broached in these parliamentary debates, the paper broadens our interpretations of global histories of welfare feminism in general and reproductive justice in particular.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalSouth Asian Review
Early online date22 Apr 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Apr 2024

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© 2024 The Author(s).

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