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Great Expectations, Great Grievances: The Politics of Citizens’ Complaints in India

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To complain to and about government is an essential political act, with consequences for citizen-state relations. This article examines these dynamics in the policing sector, through a study of grievance redressal hearings in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The hearings provide a critical channel to justice for some of the most marginalized, including women. However, most participants become less satisfied following their hearings, as initial hopes are dashed against the constraints of local policing. The study highlights the promise and limits of formal complaints mechanisms, which can amplify citizens’ voices but—when coupled with an expectations gap—can also deepen grievances. Complaining, I argue, is a powerful but at times paradoxical form of voice, conditioned by citizens’ expectations and by state capacity.

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Keywords: India; accountability; citizenship; complaints; grievances; police

Appeared or available online: February 10, 2021

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