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Deepa Das Acevedo, Law, ABF Visiting Scholar, University of Alabama School of Law

  • When: March 10, 2021, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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The Battle for Sabarimala

The dispute over women’s access to the Hindu temple at Sabarimala, Kerala has made headlines for more than five years now. Massive protests (and counter-protests) have been held, hundreds of individuals have been jailed, a Supreme Court decision has been issued (and greeted with over 50 review petitions), death threats have been made, and a state government was dealt its worst electoral blow in decades. What’s more, the core issue—whether women between the ages of 10 and 50 may enter Sabarimala’s precincts—does not appear to have been fully resolved. Although the Indian Supreme Court granted access to all Hindu women in 2018, protestors have successfully blocked all but two female visitors from entering the temple. Additionally, review petitions challenging the Court’s opinion have produced a broad inquiry into Indian religious freedom jurisprudence, and efforts to legislatively override the Court continue to surface. Even the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has not laid the issue to rest.

The Battle for Sabarimala is the first monograph length treatment of this long-running dispute, and it builds on over a decade of research into secular governance and temple management in India. Weaving back and forth between the afterlife of the 2018 opinion and earlier phases of the dispute—including a 1993 High Court decision, a mid-2000s scandal, and a pair of social movements in the 2010s—the book describes a battle that is at once familiar and potentially schismatic. In twenty-first century India, the battle for Sabarimala is far more than a dispute over an unusual god and his unusual temple: it is a turning point for India’s approach to religion-state relations.

Photo and bio courtesy of University of Alabama School of Law.

Deepa Das Acevedo is a legal anthropologist. She received her A.B. in Politics from Princeton, and both her JD and PhD in Anthropology from The University of Chicago. During the 2020-21 academic year, she is on leave as a Luce/ACLS Fellow in Religion and Journalism, courtesy of the American Council of Learned Societies, and as a Visiting Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Deepa’s research blends ethnographic fieldwork and anthropological theory with doctrinal and policy analysis to provide new insights about legal rules and institutions. In addition to her work on the law and politics of India, she studies employment regulation in the gig economy, and is exploring methodological and theoretical developments in the anthropology of law. Her research has been selected for the Stanford/Harvard/Yale Junior Faculty Forum and has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the American Philosophical Society, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at The University of Chicago, and the Research Grants Committee at the University of Alabama.

She is currently working on a monograph, The Battle for Sabarimala (under contract with Oxford University Press), about the dispute over gender equality and religious freedom involving the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, India. Her edited volume, Beyond the Algorithm: Qualitative Insights for Gig Work Regulation, is in production with Cambridge University Press.

Her articles have appeared or will appear in, among others, Law & Social Inquiry, Southern California Law Review, Arizona State Law Journal, the American Journal of Comparative Law, the International Journal of Constitutional Law, The University of Chicago Law Review Online, Cornell Law Review Online, Notre Dame Law Review Online, Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, Penn Law’s Regulation Review, Employee Rights & Employment Policy Journal, Saint Louis University Law Journal, the Asian Journal of Law & Society, Modern Asian Studies, as well as in edited volumes by Oxford and Brill. Her virtual special issue of the Law and Society Review titled “Innovation in Legal Anthropology: an LSR Retrospective” (co-edited with Anna C. Offit) appeared in July. Her public writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Hindustan Times, and Economic & Political Weekly.

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