Institutional Activism and Girls' Education in Rural India

How do state agencies realize social reforms for marginalized populations, especially in settings of inequality? Through an ethnographic study of Mahila Samakhya, a government program for women’s empowerment in Uttar Pradesh, India, this article finds that reform implementation is driven by the institutional norms and practices of frontline workers. The author’s village-level field research reveals that frontline workers challenged patriarchy and caste exclusion while mobilizing village women’s groups for girls’ education, a process that was ridden with social conflict. By negotiating everyday conflicts with target households, the program effectively integrated disadvantaged girls into the education system. The author, Akshay Mangla, will be in conversation with Professor Barbara Harriss-White, to reflect on the study and the challenge of sustaining frontline commitment to girls’ education in India.