The reflections in this article were instigated by the repeated and brutal clashes since 2007 between peasants and the state government’s militias—both official and unofficial—over the issue of industrialization. A communist government engaging peasants violently in order to acquire and transfer their lands to big business houses to set up capitalist enterprises seemed dramatically ironic. De- spite the presence of many immediate causes for the conflict, subtle long-term change to the nature of communist politics in the state was also responsible for the present situation. This article identifies two trends that, though significant, are by themselves not enough to explain what is happening in West Bengal today. First, the growth of a culture of governance where the Communist Party actively seeks to manage rather than politicize social conflicts; second, the recasting of radical political subjectivity as a matter of identity rather than an instigation for critical self-reflection and self-transformation.
The ironies of the parliamentary Left in West Bengal
Projit Bihari Mukharji
Neoliberal industrialization and the politics of land and work in rural West Bengal
This article seeks to understand why both anti-land acquisition protests and proindustrial rhetoric of provincial governments in India are fodder for populist politics. To understand this, the article explores the meanings that land and development have for the rural communities in West Bengal, India, who are trying to straddle the multiple worlds of farm ownership and nonfarm employment. Based on five years of ethnographic fieldwork in various parts of rural West Bengal, this article argues that resistances to corporate globalization, taken to be unambiguously anti-industrial or anticapitalist, reflect complex intentions. Protesting villagers are ambivalent toward corporate capital, but their support for industries and protests against corporations are grounded in local moral worlds that see both nonfarm work and landownership as markers of critical social distinction.
This article examines perceptions of colonial modernity as experienced by middle-class Bengali children in Calcutta at the turn of the twentieth century. This was the time in which the foundations of modern Calcutta and modern Bengali childhood were laid, and in which urban cultures of education and entertainment gradually replaced precolonial patterns of childhood. This article examines these transformations and assesses their role in the formation of new social norms that were to define middle-class Bengali childhood until the end of the twentieth century.
Corporate land invasion, people's power, and the Left in India
Tanika Sarkar and Sumit Chowdhury
This article discusses the events at Nandigram in West Bengal where in 2006-7, a Left Front government collaborated with an Indonesian corporate group to forcibly acquire land from local peasants and construct a Special Economic Zone. The events are placed against the broad processes of accumulation by dispossession through which peasants are losing their land and corporate profits are given priority over food production. The article looks at the working and implications of the policies and the way in which a Communist Party-led government had become complicit with such processes over the last decade. It critically examines the logic that the government offered for the policies: that of the unavoidable necessity of industrialization, demonstrating that industrialization could have been done without fresh and massive land loss and that industries of the new sort do not generate employment or offset the consequences of large scale displacements of peasants. The article's central focus is on the peasant resistance in the face of the brutalities of the party cadres and the police. We explore the meaning of the victory of the peasants at Nandigram against the combined forces of state and corporate power, especially in the context of the present neo-liberal conjuncture.
Navigating Emancipation across Imperial Boundaries
A microhistorical inquiry into the life of Furcy, a man held in slavery in the French Indian Ocean colony of Île Bourbon (today Réunion), sheds light on shifting French policies and practices regarding race and slavery from the Old Regime to the general emancipation of 1848. The mobility of two enslaved domestic servants, Furcy and his mother Madeleine, who traveled between Bengal, Île Bourbon, Mauritius, and continental France, challenged French and British understandings of who could be legitimately held as slaves. Furcy's tenacious battle to win recognition of his freedom in multiple jurisdictions is a forgotten precursor to many international disputes over the juridical principle of Free Soil in the age of Emancipation.
The American Baptist Missionary and Assamese Modernity
In the troubled area of “Assamese modernity” studies, always caught in the shadow of the Bengal Renaissance and its confident march toward cultural reawakening, the American Baptist Missionary is an important figure “looking” at the people, culture, and land in ways that are crucially different from the British. For this article's argument, it is the account produced by British administrator William Robinson, along with the letter he wrote on the Assamese language establishing it as a dialect of the Bengali, that bear examination alongside the writings of the Americans and, most specifically, Nathan Brown and Miles Bronson, who were best equipped and therefore most convincing and articulate in a counter effort to prove the separateness of the Assamese language. I look back at this corpus of writings that constitute an early debate on the identity of the Assamese and suggest that Assam's long history of resistant cultural politics and its peculiarly schizophrenic identity-making process may be traced to this early polarization of discourse between the British and Americans. While it might be too reductionist to claim that Assamese modernity is a legacy of the Americans, unlike the largely British inspired Bengal Renaissance, it is still worthwhile to examine the legacy of American Baptist missionaries in order to understand and distinguish Assamese modernity from the Bengali.
Negotiated Spaces in India’s School Meal Program
Sony Pellissery, Sattwick Dey Biaswas and Biju Abraham
In human rights literature, human dignity is the foundation of human rights. Thus, scholarly literature has focused on rights to further enchance dignity. In this article, we argue that rights alone provide only a minimum of dignity. We examine India’s right to food legislation and its implementation in school meal programs. Based on our observations, we argue that discretion and negotiation are complementary institutional spaces that can be developed for the meaningful enjoyment of rights and thus dignity. The negotiations that take place between school management committees and schoolteachers determine the dignity of the midday meal by improving meal quality and nutritional content, infrastructural facilities, and working arrangements for the cooking and delivery of meals. The findings are based on a study of four schools in the states of Kerala and West Bengal and on a review of studies on the midday meal programs in other Indian states.
Daniele Massaccesi, Emiliano Treré, Regine Buschauer, Liz Millward, Chandra D. Bhimull, Debojyoti Das, Tracy Nichols Busch, Anindyo Roy and Carmelo Busceme
Rodney Wai-chi Chu, Leopoldina Fortunati, Pul-Lam Law, and Shanhua Yang, eds., Mobile Communication and Greater China Review by Daniele Massaccesi
Pui-Lam Law, ed., New Connectivities in China: Virtual, Actual and Local Interactions Review by Emiliano Treré
Cara Wallis, Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones Review by Regine Buschauer
James Fallows, China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future Review by Liz Millward
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity Review by Chandra D. Bhimull
Rila Mukherjee, ed., Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism Review by Debojyoti Das
Jamal J. Elias, On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan Review by Tracy Nichols Busch
Arundhati Roy, Walking with the Comrades Review by Anindyo Roy
Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase and Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, eds., Rethinking Displacement: Asia Pacific Perspectives Review by Carmelo Buscema