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27 Harvard Human Rights Journal 151 (2014)


From 2010 to 2012, a team of academic and civil society researchers conducted extensive ethnographies of litigants, judges, lawyers, and courtroom personnel within multiple districts in three states: Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh. This Article provides an in-depth account of the everyday struggles these actors face in the pursuit of their respective objectives. The findings illustrate a complex matrix of variables-including infrastructure, staffing, judicial training and legal awareness, costs and continuances, gender and caste discrimination, power imbalances, intimidation and corruption, miscellaneous delays, and challenges with specialized forums-impact access to justice in the lower tier. The results of this study offer competing yet complementary narratives. On one hand, there is immense despair, frustration, and anger among the various sets of respondents about the current state of the lower tier. At the same time, however, there is great hope and optimism among individuals who work in the judicial sphere, as well as litigants desperately seeking to gain relief from long-endured grievances, toward what the lower tier can offer. Indeed, if the lower tier is empowered with greater resources and certain perverse aspects of the legal system can he reformed, it has vast potential to promote social change that advances the socioeconomic status of India's most disadvantaged groups.