Does Local Leadership Lower Bias in Law Enforcement? Evidence from Experiments with India’s Rural Politicians

57 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2022 Last revised: 1 Sep 2022

See all articles by Tanushree Goyal

Tanushree Goyal

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Sam van Noort

Princeton University

Mats Ahrenshop

University of Oxford

Date Written: June 10, 2022


Do elected local representatives lower bias in law enforcement? We conducted four vignette experiments with a representative sample of rural politicians in Bihar. Each vignette randomly varies the gender and caste of a citizen in a law enforcement situation - enforcement of lockdown rules, inheritance law, land encroachment, and the open-defecation-free policy. We find that local representatives intervene to ensure citizens compliance and, regardless of their gender or caste, strongly discriminate against (minority) women but mainly in inheritance enforcement. Conversely, we find little evidence for overt caste or gender discrimination in non-gender-progressive vignettes. We find strikingly similar results on conducting the inheritance experiment with local politicians who have judicial powers. Data indicate entrenched gender norms as a key explanation for bias. The findings show that local leaders are unlikely to enforce progressive reforms that clash with entrenched gender norms, with implications for the study of decentralization and law enforcement in patriarchal rural settings.

Data collection and fieldwork were funded by the IGC. We thank Isha Fuletra, Medha Mathur, Haniya Rumaney, and Augustus Smith for excellent program and data management and research assistantship. The following research assistants were instrumental in the data collection: Bhagya Raj Rathod, Chaitali Pant, Senjuti Basu, Pranjal Chavanke, Akriti Shrivastava, Akshita Saini, Chetna Priya, Hannin Fatima, Lakshita Chahar, Nupur Rastogi, Vareni Awasthi, Samra Maaz, Kriti Pandya, Hitender Kumar, Abhinav Pandey, Shamik Vatsa, Ankit Singh, Aastha Jha, Karishma Kharbanda, Shruti, and Khaleefa Banu. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the men and women politicians who participated in this research despite their difficult circumstances. The project received Oxford's Central University Research Ethics Committee Ref No.: SSH\_DPIR\_C1A\_20\_005.

Keywords: Decentralization, Law enforcement, Public service delivery, Gender, Political Economy of Development, Survey experiments

Suggested Citation

Goyal, Tanushree and van Noort, Sam and Ahrenshop, Mats, Does Local Leadership Lower Bias in Law Enforcement? Evidence from Experiments with India’s Rural Politicians (June 10, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Tanushree Goyal (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Robertson Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

Sam Van Noort

Princeton University ( email )

Mats Ahrenshop

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

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