Accepted paper:

Democracy, Corruption, Reaction: Dominance/Inequality, Rule of Law, and Moral Order


Devanathan Parthasarathy (Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes issues of law and morality in a largely middle class led anti-corruption movement in India, in a wider context of social dominance and widespread inequality.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyzes the on-going widely popular anti-corruption movement in India which has raised a demand for a new law to create a powerful ombudsman. This movement is characterized as a political playing out of the aesthetic of the moral - the campaign has a predominantly moral as opposed to an ethical basis. The socio-political outcomes and contexts of this movement need to be reflected upon against the deeply hierarchical nature of Indian society. Reversing Charles Taylor's dictum about the relation between social hierarchy and liberalism, the paper attempts to complicate the debate on power, inequality, plural legal orders, and the politics of law(s). The movement's refusal to utilize institutional mechanisms and available political practices to address the problem of corruption, is not unrelated to 'public' perception of corruption in purely moral terms, the corrupt as polluters if not the polluted. Ideas about corruption and the corrupt fit well with notions of danger as shown by Mary Douglas - danger originating from the 'other' who are deemed to be dirty, unclean, polluted, and hence morally inferior and unfit to govern. Versions of rule of law approaches exemplified in the homogenizing tendencies of anti-corruption institutional alternatives are seen to sit uncomfortably with the demands of a plural, diverse, and deeply unequal society. Corruption itself is seen in narrow moral terms, ignoring the corrupt practices of the socially dominant - men, upper castes, or ethnic majorities.

panel G40
Law and public morality: pluralism beyond law (IUAES Commission on Legal Pluralism)