ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Everyday Interactions between Citizen and State

Nandini Nayak ( is with the School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.

Claiming the State: Active Citizenship and Social Welfare in Rural India by Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, Cambridge, New York, Port Melbourne (Australia), New Delhi and Singapore: Cambridge University Press, 2018; pp xxii + 318, price not indicated.

This book sets out to discuss how citizens interact with the state on an everyday basis, in “non-electoral” contexts (p 11). Claim-making against the state, is defined as “state targeted citizen action in pursuit of social welfare.” In other words, claim-making literally is the act of approaching the state directly (for example, via an elected member of the gram panchayat) or indirectly (for example, via a broker) with the aim of accessing individual or collective welfare goods or services. The underlying motivation for the book is based on the view that “claim making matters, both for access to social welfare and as a form of citizenship practice” (p 185) and that it has “intrinsic” value (p 8) as an end in itself, not only as a means to access resources. The author sets out to understand both what motivates and enables claim-making and equally, the reasons for inaction or disengagement from the state. It is argued that the extent and complexity of claim-making gives us an insight into democratic practice and how citizens pursue inclusion in the political process. By the author’s own admission what we do not know from the book in as much detail, is how respondents’ pursuit of claims translates to actually accessing welfare (pp 186, 191).

The book is based on primary research conducted in four districts of Rajasthan—Ajmer, Jodhpur, Kota and Udaipur—all of which are purposively selected. Any student of research methods in the social sciences will benefit from carefully reading Appendix 1, for the attention paid by the author to designing the research. A sample survey of 2,210 randomly selected households across 105 villages from the above-mentioned districts was conducted in 2010–11, as part of the author’s doctoral research. In-depth interviews were conducted in a smaller set of survey villages and households. The book makes for a fluid and engaging read, and this is in part because of the nuance brought to bear on the work as a result of semi-structured interviews.

Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the research and provide a theoretical background. Chapters 3–6 draw on primary research to detail citizenship practice in Rajasthan. Chapters 7 and 8, too, draw on primary research and attempts to explain the consequences of claim-making, before concluding.

Social Variations

Kruks–Wisner’s 2010–11 citizen survey finds that a full 76% of survey respondents report that they have at some point engaged in a form of—direct or indirect—claim-making against the state (p 96). The survey draws out important analytical observations about gram panchayats. Even though only 17% survey respondents reported speaking at gram sabha meetings (p 81), the vast majority of respondents report directly turning to an elected member of the gram panchayat to make claims on the state. The proportion of survey respondents who turn to the gram panchayat (62%) is far higher than those turning to block or district level bureaucrats (21%) or politicians (22%); caste groups (23%), or individual brokers (17%) (p 96).

Female respondents are significantly less likely than men to engage in any form of claim-making against the state (pp 112, 164), but there is relatively little difference in claim-making incidence, when disaggregated by landownership or caste. So, the survey finds the difference in the incidence of claim-making between those in the highest quintile of landownership and those in the lowest quintile of landownership is not very significant. There is also relatively little difference in claim-making incidence between Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), Other Backward Class (OBC) and general category respondents. However, the effects of social privilege are evident in the finding that those in higher quintiles of landownership and general category respondents are more likely than the land poor and more likely than SC and ST respondents to turn to a wider range of actors and institutions, including directly turning to bureaucrats and political parties to push for claims against the state (pp 110–16).

The author steers clear of making causal linkages between respondents’ pursuit of claims and the effect of these specific acts of claim-making (p 191). Survey results for perceived effectiveness of claim-making more broadly are presented in Table 7.5. However, the author does not offer an account of these perceptions disaggregated by caste, landownership and gender, which would have been useful to see.

The author argues that exposure, by way of engagement in a mixed caste-workplace, or social engagement beyond the neighbourhood, for instance, can potentially explain the difference in likelihood of claim-making for individuals who are otherwise similarly placed in terms of socio-economic indicators (p 150). So, although women are found to be significantly less likely than men to engage in any form of claim-making against the state, their engagement as anganwadi workers—which creates an opportunity to travel for training programmes (p 180) or election to the gram panchayat can significantly alter women’s likelihood of engaging in claim-making (p 135). The author details these examples on the basis of in-depth interviews; statistical significance is not claimed. However, these are critical points and offer a reminder of the importance of diversifying public spaces. The author in fact says,

the panchayat is, itself, a critical source of exposure that informs and broadens claim making practice. Caste and gender reservations are an important catalyst, pulling marginalised men and women into the panchayat and thus increasing the likelihood and breadth of their claim making activity. (p 168)

For the most part, this book stands out for presenting carefully done research work. It is therefore surprising—especially in a book that so elaborately discusses claim-making—to see the author say that “an expansion of social rights legislations (in India) since the 1990s has not been accompanied by mass civil society mobilisation” (p 36) and that there is a “relative absence of social movement mobilisation” (p 226) in India. These statements do not reflect the centrality of collective action to the enactment of social rights legislations, neither the diverse nature of collective action around legislations such as the Right to Information Act, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the National Food Security Act. This said, this is an important book and would be of interest to a wide readership.


Updated On : 13th Sep, 2019


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