Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Gabi Kruks-WisnerApril 17
Nau 342

The gap between programmatic policy design and the uneven local implementation of law andpolicy is a widely recognized obstacle to effective and accountable governance. Governmentsworldwide have attempted to bridge this gap through the design of grievance redressal programs,intended to give citizens direct channels through which to voice their complaints. Despite theproliferation of these programs, there is little scholarship that examines their politicalconsequences. This paper examines these dynamics in the case of policing—a critical arena ofcitizen-state relations. Drawing on a study of the Jan Sunwai – a weekly public hearing carried outby the Madhya Pradesh state police in India – I examine when and why citizens engage in formalacts of complaining, and the consequences of their engagement for perceptions of publicresponsiveness and accountability. Through a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with Jan Sunwai participants, I find a perverse effect of grievance redressal over time: participants’ assessment of police performance is enhanced in the short run—at the time of their hearings—but diminished in the weeks that follow in the face of both expectation and capacity gaps concerning what the police should and can do. And yet the Jan Sunwai remains an important channel of accessto the police, in particular for women and for those who have been deterred or blocked fromcontacting their local police station. The paper concludes by reflecting on both the potential andlimitations of formal grievance redressal as a mechanism for improving accountability, and on thedynamic role that expectations play in shaping citizenship practice.