Governance Feminism in the Post-Colony: India's Rape Law Reforms of 2013

52 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2016 Last revised: 29 Oct 2016

See all articles by Prabha Kotiswaran

Prabha Kotiswaran

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: September 5, 2016


Against the backdrop of the phenomenal successes of governance feminism in the US, Israel and internationally, this paper will consider governance feminism in the post- colonial context of India. In particular, the paper uses the wide-ranging law reforms on rape and trafficking in India in the wake of the rape and murder of a Delhi student in December 2012 to make two arguments. First, that Anglo-American governance feminism has a rather limited and contingent influence on postcolonial feminism. Second, that a mapping of Indian feminist interventions on the law of rape over the past three decades suggests that Indian feminism displays key characteristics of governance feminism. Viewing the 2013 reforms as the culmination of decades of feminist lobbying of the state for rape law reform, this paper argues that Indian governance feminism is deeply committed to a highly gendered understanding of sexual violence. Further, that Indian feminism has increasingly resorted to the use of the criminal law to address sexual violence even as its historical suspicion of postcolonial state power has reduced considerably and is now mostly evident in its opposition to the death penalty for rapists. This paper thus tells a highly contextual story of fragmentation, partial reception, partial rejection, and the local production of feminist ideas and stances towards governance. It provides answers, in the Indian framework, to the key questions of this collection on governance feminism.

Keywords: Governance Feminism, Rape, India, Nirbhaya

Suggested Citation

Kotiswaran, Prabha, Governance Feminism in the Post-Colony: India's Rape Law Reforms of 2013 (September 5, 2016). King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 2016-39, Available at SSRN: or

Prabha Kotiswaran (Contact Author)

King's College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

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