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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Democracy beyond Elections: Citizen Claim-Making in Rural India

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

On a snowy February day, BC political science professor Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner spoke about democracy in rural India to an engaged audience of students, professors, and community members at the Boisi Center. Kruks-Wisner focused her discussion on the fieldwork she had conducted in Rajasthan, India, where she performed 400 qualitative interviews and 2,210 surveys over a period of eighteen months. Through this research, she sought to ascertain how rural citizens feel about the state and how they make claims for basic public services like water and electricity.

Kruks-Wisner found that three-fourths of those interviewed and surveyed make claims, a figure that far surpassed what democratic theory predicts. Individuals make these claims through a plethora of avenues, including Gram Panchayat (local government), parties, bureaucracy, village associations, caste associations, NGOs, and prominent individuals. She found no statistical difference between classes or castes in the incidence of claim-making, but did find that gender was significant, as men are more likely to make claims than women and wealthy women are less likely to make claims than poor women.

To account for her findings, Kruks-Wisner theorized that exposure beyond one’s immediate community will broaden one’s access to avenues for claim-making, ability to make effective claims, and expectations of how a claim will be received. She determined that socio-spatial exposure is a key driver of claim-making incidence and repertoire. At the conclusion of her presentation, Kruks-Wisner posed a question for the audience to contemplate: is this high incidence of claim-making indicative of active citizens in a robust democracy or of active citizens facing a democratic deficit?