Sandhya is a social anthropologist who specializes in issues of law, hate and inequality. Her research explores the relationship between legal norms, personal memories of discrimination and violence, and social imaginaries of hope, justice and restitution. Located at the intersection of anthropology, and critical legal studies, her work analyses the potential of hate crime laws to address structural inequalities and respond to culturally and historically specific experiences of oppression and hate.
Sandhya's current research project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Foundation, explores conflicts over ‘hate speech’ in India, a country with a long history of communal violence. The project asks how the law can respond to hateful speech, and how legal approaches to injury relate to wider histories of dis- crimination and violence. Through an institutional ethnography within Indian courts, the project analyses the relationship between legal notions of harm and wider landscapes of social memory among marginalized communities, such as Indian Muslims and Dalits (ex-untouchables). Specifically, the project examines the role historical and contextual interpretations play in the adjudication of individual hate speech cases. It does so by analyzing courts in Delhi, India, as key sites for the production of claims about the meaning of language, injury, violence and history. The project focuses, in particular, on the way temporal models shape judicial arguments around harm and hateful intent. It asks if, and how, judges take into account the memories and histories of structural marginalization that Dalit and Muslim complainants narrate when litigating harmful speech, or if the courts adopt a ‘presentist’ and individualistic perspective. Second, the project explores how judicial treatments of social history, affect how members of marginalized groups remember and narrate incidents of hate, and the social terrain within which they take place. Ultimately, research asks what role hate speech legislation plays in combating, or reproducing, wider histories of discrimination and injury.
This project builds on Sandhya's doctoral thesis, entitled “An Atrocious Hope: Dalit Voices and Legal Performance in the Production of the Prevention of Atrocities Act in Rajasthan”. The project examined how Dalit (formerly “untouchable”) communities in the Indian state of Rajasthan mobilize the 1989 Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, one of India’s most ambitious and controversial hate crime laws, to navigate continuing concerns of social, political, and economic disadvantage and violent discrimination. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Rajasthan and Delhi, the project put discussions about the personal and social effects of traumatic violence in conversation with debates about legal evidence, and considerations of law as an institutionalized horizon of possibility. It analyses what success means in the context of hate crime legislation and what possibilities and agencies such laws engender.
Sandhya completed her PhD in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2020, where she was affiliated with the International Inequalities Institute (III). Currently, she is working on her book manuscript tentatively entitled "Hope and Hate at the Limits of Law: Imagining caste equality through atrocity legislation". Before coming to Edinburgh as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, she worked as a Research Associate for the Law and Anthropology Division at he University of Bern, Switzerland. In Bern, Sandhya developed her own syllabi on the anthropology of hate crimes, and the anthropology of violence, trauma and memory. Sandhya holds an MPhil degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford and a BA in Anthropology and Philosophy from Colby College, Maine, USA. Her research has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Wenner Gren Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service.