Upward mobility in a forgotten tribe

Notes on the "creamy layer" problem

in Focaal
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Public discussions of recent demands by the Gujjars of Rajasthan, India, for inclusion on the list of the state's affirmative action beneficiaries have often veered away from the legitimacy of their claims and toward whether elite Gujjar leaders can speak for less educated and less affluent community members. This article examines how this latter set of questions-often described as the “creamy layer“ problem in reference to a group's elite who have “risen to the top“ and need to be “skimmed off“-can obscure the real workings of affirmative action on the ground and the limitations encountered by groups seeking upward mobility. Ethnographic research with the Dhanka tribe reveals deep concerns that upwardly mobile groups are in danger of downward mobility without the protection of affirmative action-based hiring practices, and that middle class elites within the tribe can be important political advocates for others within the community.

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology