Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 49–70 | Cite as

How Women Talk in Indian Democracy

  • Paromita SanyalEmail author
  • Vijayendra Rao
  • Umang Prabhakar


In democracies, political institutions based on deliberation offer citizens scope for talk-based participation in development and governance. A prominent example is the Indian gram sabha, or village assembly. We undertake a talk-centered analysis of women’s participation in village assemblies and examine if associational membership, in the form of self-help group (SHG) membership, makes a difference in how women frame their concerns and demands addressed to the state. Analyzing 255 village assembly transcripts from four South Indian states, we find that women’s participation varies vastly between states, and SHG membership matters for narrative style. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, women associated with SHGs employed a wider variety of narrative styles and utilized a more complex structure to convey their problems and demands compared to non-member women. Drawing on this analysis, we argue that SHGs contribute to deepening democracy by improving the quality of women’s participation in deliberative political institutions. We discuss the mechanisms through which this influence might come to bear. This study contributes to understanding the link between associational life and democracy and the political sociology of democracy.


Women’s political participation Deliberative democracy Village assemblies Gram Sabha India Self-help groups Women’s associations 



We acknowledge The World Bank Group for funding the data collection and The President’s Council of Cornell Women (PCCW) at Cornell University for awarding the Affinito-Stewart Grant to the corresponding author, which funded the data analysis. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for providing valuable feedback. We take all responsibility for our work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paromita Sanyal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vijayendra Rao
    • 2
  • Umang Prabhakar
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Development Research Group, The World BankWashingtonUSA

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