Cover of Fragile Hope by Sandhya Fuchs
Fragile Hope
Seeking Justice for Hate Crimes in India
Sandhya Fuchs


June 2024
358 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638341
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639362
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639379

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Against the backdrop of the global Black Lives Matter movement, debates around the social impact of hate crime legislation have come to the political fore. In 2019, the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice urgently asked how legal systems can counter bias and discrimination. In India, a nation with vast socio-cultural diversity, and a complex colonial past, questions about the relationship between law and histories of oppression have become particularly pressing. Recently, India has seen a rise in violence against Dalits (ex-untouchables) and other minorities. Consequently, an emerging "Dalit Lives Matter" movement has campaigned for the effective implementation of India's only hate crime law: the 1989 Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA).

Drawing on long-term fieldwork with Dalit survivors of caste atrocities, human rights NGOs, police, and judiciary, Sandhya Fuchs unveils how Dalit communities in the state of Rajasthan interpret and mobilize the PoA. Fuchs shows that the PoA has emerged as a project of legal meliorism: the idea that persistent and creative legal labor can gradually improve the oppressive conditions that characterize Dalit lives. Moving beyond statistics and judicial arguments, Fuchs uses the intimate lens of personal narratives to lay bare how legal processes converge and conflict with political and gendered concerns about justice for caste atrocities, creating new controversies, inequalities, and hopes.

About the author

Sandhya Fuchs is Assistant Professor of Social Anthropology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

"This is an outstanding book, a deeply thoughtful, imaginative, and occasionally startling piece of work. Through examining the social world of the Prevention Against Atrocities Act, it sets out in moving detail the challenges and possibilities of using the law to challenge ingrained forms of discrimination and violence. While pointing out the limits of the transformative power of the law, Fuchs opens up another level of analysis that explores its unexpected effects and possibilities. In doing so, this is a piece of work that is never willing to simply settle for easy answers, forcing us to ask some hard questions. Throughout, the book is highly engaging, beautifully written, and sensitive in its handling of the material and its subjects, making an important contribution to the social study of law and violence in South Asia."

—Tobias Kelly, author of This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture, and the Recognition of Cruelty

"This is a remarkable book focused on the social life of a law which connects to the deepest and most violent contradictions in contemporary Indian society. Fuchs sensitively explores how the processes around the Prevention of Atrocities Act bring into play the very caste-based violence, patriarchal authority, and silencing of victims that the law intends to prevent. It is a work of compassionate scholarship, with the kind of respect and curiosity that marks anthropology at its best. There are broader lessons here on legal processes amidst inequality: what does it take to be a 'credible complainant'; how are cases rendered 'false', what is the meaning of 'compromise'? The answers depart from what legal professionals might expect, showing how necessary this ethnographic work is to the understanding of law and the meaning of justice in social reality."

—David Mosse, author of The Saint in the Banyan Tree: Christianity and Caste Society in India

"Told through the harrowing stories of caste-based violence, a deeply moving and nuanced account of the hope offered by one of the world's most significant hate-crime laws to bring justice for Dalits while at the same time generating new forms of intra community violence. A beacon of what an anthropology that cares – based on deep ethnography – can produce, this is a must read for all concerned with hate-crime violence, race and caste, South Asia, and the social life of law."

—Alpa Shah, author of Nightmarch: A Journey into India's Naxal Heartlands