The public sphere has been centre stage in celebrations of India's political triumphs. Leading commentators tell us that the astonishing post-independence surge of democracy has been contingent on the rise of a new kind of sociopolitical formation: the public sphere. This article takes a closer look at the popular deliberative terrain in North India to question this claim. Drawing on research conducted in a provincial town in the North Indian state of Rajasthan, we see that where metropolitan political theorists see 'transparency' as promoting discursive and political possibilities, Rajasthani villagers see an exposure which prevents expression, communication and the making of political choices. In their view, it is secrecy and social seclusion that enable political interactions and elicit political judgments. 'The public sphere' is an unfit heuristic for locating popular politics within (and beyond) Rajasthan, where it obscures much more than it reveals.
Political Communications and the Morality of Disclosure in Rural Rajasthan
This chapter examines three important events of 2013: the worsening of the crisis with India concerning the threatened withholding of two Italian marines involved in the deaths of two Indian fishermen, the repatriation of the wife and daughter of Kazakh dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov, and the political struggle over the purchase of F-35 fighter jets. This analysis allows us to take stock of the Italian “national security model,” the decision-making processes governing the relations and powers of Italian institutions in managing international crises, and the adoption of national guidelines for defense and foreign policy.
Routing Clifford amongst the Yakha in Nepal and NE India
Imagine yourself on a bus in a small eastern Nepalese hill town, about to set off as a migrant to the lowland Tarai or somewhere in NE India. There is noise and bustle, from the people who have struggled to get on the bus and secure space for themselves and their families, and from the driver who honks the horn and revs the accelerator pedal, eager to depart. You are squashed into a space with your knees bent up against the seat in front. The vibrations from the engine permeate the whole bus, and you reflect on the six hours that lie ahead until you reach your destination. A final passenger is pushed aboard and, to shouts from the fare collector, gears grinding, you are off. Just at this pinnacle of journeying, when you feel your senses could not be more fully loaded with stimuli, your emotions full of departure, the driver puts in a cassette and turns it on full volume.
Transnational identification and estrangement
Ellen Bal and Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff
The authors present a case study of Indian nationalists who drew from a discourse on ‘exploited overseas Indian migrants’ to serve their own political interests. At the same time, overseas British Indians, in this case in Surinam, advocated the continuation of transnational relations between (British) India and Surinam in order to strengthen the position of their community locally. Clearly, for some time, transnational identification served the (national) interests of both groups in the two different nations. Yet the authors also show that when such transnational ‘solutions’ did not serve any longer to solve local problems, estrangement between the two communities followed. Theoretically, this article constitutes a synthesis of approaches that connect identities to specific places and theories that have abandoned the study of geographically-based national societies. It demonstrates how the politics of place is dominant even within the field of transnational alliances.
In Ladakh, north-west India, a popular narrative of the region’s inhabitants as spiritually and ecologically enlightened combines with national sustainable and participatory development policies to produce a distinctive character that underpins the local administration’s development strategies. These strategies emphasise ‘traditional’ values of cooperation, simplicity, and ecological and spiritual harmony as the way to achieve culturally sustainable development and emotional well-being. However, obstacles to development appear when normative principles of sustainability and ecological wisdom encounter local cosmology, hierarchy and perceptions of expertise in society. In this article, I refl ect upon my fieldwork and previous regional ethnographies to consider possible frameworks for evaluating well-being as an indicator of culturally sustainable development that include concepts of cosmology and expert protection.
Ethnographies of affirmative action
Alpa Shah and Sara Shneiderman
This is the introduction to a special section of Focaal that includes seven articles on the anthropology of affirmative action in South Asia. The section promotes the sustained, critical ethnographic analysis of affirmative action measures adopted to combat historical inequalities around the world. Turning our attention to the social field of affirmative action opens up new fronts in the anthropological effort to understand the state by carefully engaging the relationship between the formation and effects of policies for differentiated citizenship. We explore this relationship in the historical and contemporary context of South Asia, notably India and Nepal. We argue that affirmative action policies always transform society, but not always as expected. The relationship between political and socioeconomic inequality can be contradictory. Socioeconomic inequalities may persist or be refigured in new terms, as policies of affirmative action and their experiential effects are intimately linked to broader processes of economic liberalization and political transformation.
This article examines claims about the substantive importance of black letter law for those having marriages of choice in India and offers a critique of the ways in which legal procedure is manipulated. The law is 'bent' not only by the courts and the police to undermine the intentions of legislators and to uphold conservative communal values but also by ordinary people who seek to promote their own agendas and to make moral and instrumental claims. These can make significant space for individual desires and self-choice in the realm of intimate relationships. 'Love jurisdiction' is used to explore this process of 'intermanglement' through which love, romantic relationships and moral rights in relationships get entangled (and sometimes mangled) through legal statute, procedures and everyday practices.
"State-made" Dalit youth in rural North India
This article explores histories of social separation, impermanent encounters, and lasting political alliances between Dalit (“untouchable”) Chamar male youth and members of the upper-caste Brahman community in a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, North India. The entry of young Chamar people into educational institutions followed by political mobilization and, for some, the transition into employment, has led them to appropriate spaces often beyond the purview of previous generations. Against the backdrop of Chamar histories as agricultural laborers, powerless political subjects, and actors of religious marginality, new forms of masculinity, sociality, and class formation have come into being. The article focuses on young Chamar men’s involvement in village politics, particularly during the 2005 local elections. It is argued that village politics—rather than inter-caste friendships, which remain short-lived as a result of caste discrimination—has engendered an arena of sociality where caste-driven interest produce more durable social links between young low-caste men and members of the upper-caste community. As India’s political history illustrates, the episode of electoral politics analyzed in this article brings together differently situated communities within the nation, highlighting how the unresolved question of caste discrimination conflates with the compulsion to political power. If young Chamar men are the new protagonists in this history, their role is the outcome of broader changes in the consciousness around political participation and the opening up of democratic possibilities for minority populations in a postcolonial setting.
Breaking the Bonds of Marriage in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is carefully wrought, formally balanced, stylistically elegant, and maddeningly, deliberately opaque where one wishes most for clarity. The novel recounts what seem to be two only marginally related narratives – the story of Fielding and Aziz and the story of Adela and Ronny. The question, ‘whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman’, the subject of the novel’s first conversation, and which presages the story of Fielding and Aziz, continues long after the story of Adela and Ronny – until, in fact, the book’s closing lines.1 Yet in spite of the novel’s carefully self-conscious structure, it is not at all clear why the answer to this framing thematic question, whether or not Indian and English men can be friends, should be explored in the context of the most conventional of all the conventions of the Anglo-Indian domestic novel: a young girl’s coming to India in order to marry.2 Nor is it clear why friendship between Indian and English men should turn on Aziz’s excursion with Mrs Moore and Adela to the Marabar Caves, although what happens there, and the aftermath, determines the course of friendship between Fielding and Aziz. Why, we might ask, do women emerge at the centre of a question about men? Why is the barrier separating Indian and English men posed in terms of English women’s response to India?
Following the success of Edward Said's groundbreaking work Orientalism (1979), an entire school of criticism has attempted to apply Said's ideas to the whole range of colonial writings and art. Some of these applications have proved more suitable than others, and there sometimes seems to be an assumption at work in academia - especially in the US - that all writings of the colonial period exhibit exactly the same sets of prejudices. It is as if there is at work a monolithic, modern, academic Occidentalism which seems to match the monolithic stereotypes perceived in the original Orientalism uncannily. Fanny Parkes, author of Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque (1850), has not escaped this academic pigeon-holing, and has recently been the subject of two academic articles which would have her implicit in the project of gathering 'Colonial knowledge' and 'imbricated with the project of Orientalism' - in other words an unwitting outrider of colonialism, attempting to 'appropriate' Indian learning and demonstrate the superiority of Western ways by 'imagining' India as decayed and degenerate, fit only to be colonised and 'civilised'. Anyone who reads Fanny Parkes's writing with an open mind cannot but see this as a wilful misreading of the whole thrust of her text, an attempt to fit her book into a mould which it simply does not fit.