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Jonathan Parry

This piece tells the story of a disturbing episode in the author's relationship with the field. Though the details are unique, the kind of ethical dilemmas it documents must be in some form or other part of the experience of a great many anthropologists – though such stories are seldom set down in print. These dilemmas include the balance we strike between participation and observation, and between the moral commitments we have as private individuals and our (no less moral) commitment as anthropologists to report on our ethnography in as impartial and objective a way as is possible. Central to this particular story is the anthropologist's relationship with his research assistant over more than two decades, and it tells of the latter's involvement in various human rights campaigns, his arrest, imprisonment and on-going trial on vaguely specified charges. I reflect on the way in which these events have affected my subsequent fieldwork and on the way I have written up. It is the story of a friendship and of a genuine intellectual collaboration between the anthropologist and anthropologist's research assistant that is probably not so uncommon but is seldom fully reflected in the ethnographies we read.

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The sanctioning state

Official permissiveness and prohibition in India

Ajay Gandhi

resolute control at the heart of modernist statecraft is presumed more than shown ( Scott 1998 ). Consequently, an implicitly or explicitly normative understanding of how the state functions abounds. The Indian state’s discretionary expressions, in this

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Emancipation as social equality

Subaltern politics in contemporary India

Indrajit Roy

Office, the representative of the development bureaucracy of the Indian state. He made an impassioned plea for the standardization of dates. MSS functionary: Look baba , one date [for Dina and Bhadri] will help us to convince the government to grant a

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Zuzana Hrdličková

airport in the Indian state of Odisha, waiting to meet two NIDM experts to accompany them on their field trip and inspect the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin. As the storm had made landfall sixteen days ago, media coverage had already provided a sense of what

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Crisis and retirement

Alienation in Kerala's tea belt

Jayaseelan Raj

Abstract

The recent crisis in the tea industry has devastated the livelihood of the Dalit workforce in the South Indian state of Kerala. Retired workers were worst affected, since the plantation companies—under the disguise of the crisis—deferred their service payout. This article seeks to understand the severe alienation of the retirees as they struggle to regain lost respect, kinship network, and everyday sociality in the plantations and beyond. I argue that the alienation produced through their dispossession as wage laborers and the discrimination as Tamil-speaking Dalit must be understood as an interrelated process, whereas the source of alienation cannot be reduced to production or categorical relations alone.

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Scheduling tribes

A view from inside India's ethnographic state

Townsend Middleton

Venturing into an ethnography of government anthropologists themselves, this article interrogates the bureaucratic inner workings and actual agents of today's “ethnographic state." By engaging with the civil servants who verify India's Scheduled Tribes, I explore the politics of “tribal“ recognition from the inside out. This perspective lends timely insight into the logistical, political, and epistemological difficulties integral to the functioning-and current crisis-of India's affirmative action system. Weighing the demands of “tribal“ recognition through those that arguably know them best-government anthropologists themselves- this study examines the human dimension (and dilemmas) of the Indian state and its affirmative action system for Scheduled Tribes.

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Introduction

Remaking the Public Good

Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur

In this introductory article, we call for a new anthropology of bureaucracy focused on 'the public good'. We aim to recapture this concept from its classic setting within the discipline of economics. We argue that such a move is particularly important now because new public goods – of transparency, fiscal discipline and decentralization – are being pressed into the service of states and transnational organizations: it has therefore become critical to focus on their techniques, effects and affects through fine-grained ethnography that challenges the economization of the political. We demonstrate our approach through some ethnographic findings from different parts of India. These show how fiscal austerity leads to new limited social contracts and precarious intimacies with the post-liberalization Indian state. This relationship between new public goods and forms of precarious citizenship is then further illuminated by the six articles that follow in this special issue.

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Where Is the Public Sphere?

Political Communications and the Morality of Disclosure in Rural Rajasthan

Anastasia Piliavsky

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.

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The social life of categories

Affirmative action and trajectories of the indigenous

Bengt G. Karlsson

In this article I examine the ways in which the term “indigenous peoples“ is reworked in a specific South Asian context. I focus on the new, hybrid category of “indigenous tribe“ in the Indian state of Meghalaya. I argue that we can think of the indigenous tribe category as a strategic conflation of two different regimes of rights or political assertions. The first relates to the existing nation-state framework for affirmative action as expressed in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, while the second relates to the emerging global framework for asserting the rights of indigenous peoples. While the benefits of asserting the status of indigenous tribes is obvious, for example, preventing other, nonindigenous tribes from owning land in the state, the long-term gains seems more doubtful. Both affirmative action programs and indigenous peoples frameworks are motivated by a moral imperative to redress historical injustices and contemporary social inequalities. To evoke them for other ends might eventually backfire. The larger point I seek to make, however, is that political categories tend to take on a life of their own, escaping their intended purposes and hence applied by people in novel and surprising ways.

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Muthanga

A Spark of Hope

K. Ravi Raman

On 19 February 2003, the armed police of the currently rightwing government of the Indian state of Kerala descended on over one thousand adivasi1 families— men, women and children—who had peacefully settled on the fringes of the Muthanga range of the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary, driving them out in a most brutal fashion and even killing one of those women who resisted. The state had failed to give any prior warning of the police action, nor was any attempt made toward a mediated negotiation. The police unleashed a reign of terror in the region; physical molestation of women was also reported, the latter having been substantiated by the National Women’s Commission. Those who fell into the hands of the police were brutally manhandled en route to the police station; in a bizarre innovation, the activists were forced to beat one another. The movement had been launched by the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha—the Grand Assembly of Indigenous People—led by a tribal woman, C. K. Janu. The demands of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha for land, food, shelter, the enforcement of constitutional provisions, reparation for losses incurred by the intervention of foreign companies in their environment, etc., are paralleled in indigenous movements elsewhere, e.g., the Zapatistas in Mexico (see Collier 1994; Gledhill 1997; Hellman 2000; Weinberg 2000; Womack 1999). However, unlike other indigenous movements, the situation in Kerala has received little world attention.