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52 J. Legal Pluralism & Unofficial L. 41 (2006)
Playing off Courts: The Negotiation of Divorce and Violence in Plural Legal Settings in Kolkata

handle is hein.journals/jlpul52 and id is 57 raw text is: PLAYING OFF COURTS:
Srimati Basu
Say the number '420' to anyone who has grown up in India, and there is instant
recognition of its connotation - it refers to a shady person, a cheat, a thief; the
concept refers to the section number for the offence of fraud in the Indian Penal
Code, but is so naturalized that the link to the category signified is all but
forgotten, making for hilarious cross-cultural misunderstanding on occasion. A
more recent signifier, marked also by its Penal Code section number, fast
assuming equivalent potency, is '498' - this section of the IPC refers to 'torture'
of women (domestic violence both physical and mental is to be prosecuted under
this), but it erupts frequently in common parlance to signify a new order of choices
for women, a new slate of sanctions for men, and a new way of using courts,
police and community mediators. In my ethnographic investigations of Family
Courts and Women's Grievance Cells of the Police in Kolkata, India, I began to be
struck by how often my observations of divorce proceedings were infused with
references to '498': male litigants in the social camaraderie of the courtroom
corridor would check in with each other, How did your 498 go?, assuming a
shared legal torment: you can't save the marriage once there's a 498 was the
most frequent phrase I heard from police officers; How can she blame me for the
marriage failing when she has filed a 498?, a Family Court 'counselor'
(mediator) asked rhetorically. Yet, when judges, counselors and police dealt with
'498s,' they often were not managing/punishing violence pcr se, but rather
negotiating a range of issues related to the social and economic entitlements of
1  Copyright 2006 - Srimati Basu

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