Relocating the Master’s Domain: Social and Legal Locations of Gender from Post-Disaster to Everyday Life

Publication Date01 Mar 2007
AuthorJane Krishnadas
Keele University, UK
The post-disaster situation provides an insight into the role of rights in the relocation
of social and legal spheres and the location of gender within. Grounded in four years
of empirical research in the post-earthquake reconstruction process in Maharashtra,
India, this article traces the World Bank and state government policy to relocate
52,000 houses and 67 villages. Lorde’s (1996) analogy of ‘the master’s house’ provides
a metaphor for the location of women within the patriarchal architecture of the
private and public sphere, which I relate to discourses of place and space and the local
and global. Drawing upon feminist and post-colonial perspectives, this article chal-
lenges the essentialist binary locations of women within public and private domains
of rights constructed within the World Bank and state housing policy, the public and
private legal system and informal to alternative spheres of social and legal relations.
Alternative women’s meetings, street protests and gatherings at the village to inter-
national fora intersect and disrupt the boundary walls to relocate women across social
and legal spheres. This experience provides the possibility of ultimately becoming the
master of the relocation of social and local domains and one’s location within.
domestic violence; legal pluralism; public and private; public interest litigation;
relocation; women’s organizing; World Bank
SOCIAL & LEGAL STUDIES Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore,
0964 6639, Vol. 16(1), 131–147
DOI: 10.1177/0964663907073778

Empowerment involves the transformation of power relations by which
women move from being objects within relationships of subordination to
becoming subjects, controlling their own lives. It addresses those power
structures that subordinate women at different societal levels – household,
community, nation – and which must be transformed so that women can take
full control over their lives. (UN/CSW, 2002: 50, emphasis added)
THESINGINGcould be heard hard and loud across the fields. From the
setting of the sun, the drums beat on through the night till the dawn
lit the new houses of Nandurga Thande.
In a single day, a transformation – the horseshoe layout of the Banjara
tribal settlement, where everyone could see one another across the common
ground, was now dismantled; the new homes redefined, confined in lines.
Banabai sat alone in the porch, clutching her stomach – I’d never heard a
woman howl so fearfully which thundered forth and then rocked itself into
a soulful song: ‘They’ve all gone – four sons, two sisters, their families . . . so
many children that would sit on my knee as we cooked bacca (bread) on the
fire . . . now we’ve been separated and the fights have begun, and there is no
one to hear. They turned our houses away from the sun and now we will live
in darkness . . . until we move on’ (Krishnadas, 2004: 208).
The above quotes, one selected from the UN Commission on the Status of
Women, and the other from my home visit to the relocated village of
Nandurga Thande, introduce this article’s analysis of the role of rights in
constructing spheres of social and legal relations and the location of gender
within. The article is grounded in the post-earthquake reconstruction process
in Maharashtra, India, where I lived and worked in the villages for four years
(1993–7). The image of Banabai in her home provides an empirical case study
of not only the location of women within the family, community and village,
but also of her relocation by the World Bank and state policy. This provides
both the theoretical and practical framework to analyse the transformation
of power structures of the ‘household, community, nation’ (UN/CSW, 2002:
50) across the public/private, state/non-state and local/global divides.
The article traces the role of rights as an instrument for the World Bank
and state government policy to relocate 67 rural villages and reconstruct
52,000 traditional homes into a modern township, and as an instrument for
the affected community to challenge their location within the policy. The
World Bank and state policy relocated traditional homes constructed accord-
ing to cultural, familial and economic needs, into nuclear, unit houses. This
divided the local living structures into domestic and working spheres,
constructing an isolated and marginalized location of women within the new
housing colonies.

Women’s struggles against such marginalization, isolation and violence
reached beyond the household to challenge their location in the wider recon-
struction process. I compare how such struggles were relocated within a
private and public sphere of law, locating ‘domestic’ struggles in private
litigation, and the public struggles for housing in public interest litigation
(S. Krishnadas v Government of Maharashtra, 1994). The shifting positions
of the courts, the state government and World Bank reveal the permeation of
boundaries of the public and private domains of law from the domestic to
state, judicial and executive, and local and global terrains. From the local
women’s search for alternative locations of justice through women’s meetings,
non-formal litigation and public protests, I trace how the public and private
spheres of struggle were challenged and transgressed. This analysis of women’s
relocation within the newly constructed household, village, state and World
Bank policy informs the shifting spheres of social and legal domains to inform
diverse and critical theoretical perspectives on the relocation of gender and
Within this article the image of Banabai in the newly and externally constructed
house redraws Audre Lorde’s (1996: 160) pioneering metaphor of the ‘master’s
house’. This image conveys the location of women in the legal system, housed
within a patriarchal power structure. Yet rather than the age-old image of a
fixed, ever-existing ‘master’s house’, the post-earthquake reconstruction
process reveals the very recently designed, planned and material construction
of a new house on a new ‘green field’ site. The ancient, traditional houses
were demolished and the slate cleared for the World Bank and state govern-
ment to become the new masters of the new houses.
This process of relocation provides an insight to the possibility of relocat-
ing the ‘master’s house’, as a social and legal domain in which gender is relo-
cated. Yet in both the traditional and the new, the ‘masters’ of relocation have
authored with a patriarchal pen. In focusing upon the location of women, this
experience provides the possibility of not only relocating the rights domain
but also ultimately becoming the architect of its relocation.
Throughout this article the master’s house continues as a metaphor for the
rights domain to analyse the role of rights in (a) constructing spheres of social
and legal relations, and (b) constructing the location of women within.
Drawing upon post-modern theories of the ‘mechanisms of power . . . in
which each individual is constantly located’ (Foucault, 1979: 197) feminist
analysis progresses an understanding of the location of gender in social and
legal relations. Alcoff (1988) explores the politics of location as one’s ‘position
upon a chessboard’, where oppression lies: ‘Not on a claim that their innate
capacities are being stunted, but that their position within the network lacks
power and mobility and requires radical change – the oppression of women
involves their relative position within a society’ (p. 433).

Banabai’s relocation from the remote tribal village to the state-constructed
township exposes the potential to shift her ‘position within the network’ and
to change her ‘relative position within society’. This article considers the role
of rights in harnessing ‘power and mobility’ to relocate social and legal
domains. I draw upon diverse feminist scholarship in socio-legal, cultural
geography, post-colonial and globalization theory to analyse the shifting
locations of women in different domains of rights, from the World Bank and
state policy, the public and private legal system and informal to alternative
spheres of social and legal relations.
First, I consider the shifting spheres of social and legal domains as the
World Bank and state government policy transformed the place in which the
villagers’ resided from a rural, traditional and autonomous village to a state-
controlled township. I engage with social and legal theories to inform the
empirical experience of how such sites are relocated and the possibility of
transition within.
Manji (1999) has challenged the location of feminist legal theory ‘within a
dominant and phallocentric legal centralist paradigm’ urging feminists to
move out of the patriarchal legal framework ‘towards a feminist theory of
legal pluralism’ (p. 435). Drawing upon theorists of the African state, Manji
observes how women changed their relative position within state and non-
state law through their physical mobility. As women migrated from the rural
areas to the township ‘women encountered state law as a tool of social control’,
which ‘necessitated their search for ways to limit the scope of state intrusion
in their lives’ (p. 444).
This relation of...

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