In a “Fragile Space”: Sexual Harassment and the Construction of Indian Feminism



    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • ***MADHAVI SUNDER is an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York City. She is a graduate of Harvard College (1992) and Stanford Law School (1997).

  • *This article is grounded in empirical work I conducted in India as a Benjamin A. Trustman research fellow during 1992 and 1993. I would like to thank Harvard University for providing me with that fellowship opportunity to connect my personal history with scholarly work in the way I have been able to do here. At Stanford Law School, several people have helped me put that work into provocative theoretical frameworks. In particular I would like to thank Janet Halley, Tom Heller, Sophie Pirie, and Margaret Jane Radin for their advice and encouragement. Friends and mentors Rhonda Copelon, Alda Facio, and Leti Volpp also provided valuable assistance with this project. Last, I would like to thank the women I met during my year in India who shared with me their experiences and inspired me with their creativity and courage.

**Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, One Liberty Plaza, New York, NY 10006-1470. Telephone: (212) 225–2000; e-mail:


Tracking the feminist legal reform movement in India from its initial focus on rape in the late 1970s to recent efforts to address sexual harassment, the author chronicles Indian feminists' struggle to develop indigenously authentic approaches to modernity and development through law. The author explicates sexual harassment in India as a crime related to women's everyday struggle to challenge traditional boundaries and reformulate identities: Sexual violence is often used to thwart these challenges and lock Indian women into traditional roles. The resulting “process-based” Indian analysis of sexual harassment, which departs from traditional victim-based analyses of the crime in the West, serves as one example of Indian feminists self-consciously creating a legal reform movement that both engages international dialogue on sexual harassment, and integrates that dialogue with its own particular history to create a distinct legal reform.