The large-scale transfer of land from rural communities to private corporations has become a defining feature of India’s development trajectory. These land transfers have given rise to a multitude of new “land wars” as dispossessed groups have struggled to retain their land. Yet while much has been written about the political economy of development that underpins this new form of dispossession, the ways in which those threatened with dispossession have sought to mobilize have to a lesser extent been subject to close ethnographic scrutiny. This article argues that an “everyday politics” perspective can enhance our understanding of India’s new land wars, using a case from Singur as the starting point. The agenda is twofold. I show how everyday life domains and sociopolitical relations pertaining to caste, class, gender, and party political loyalty were crucial to the making of the Singur movement and its politics. Second, by analyzing the movement in processual terms, I show how struggles over land can be home to a multitude of political meanings and aspirations as participants seek to use new political forums to resculpt everyday sociopolitical relations.
Kenneth Bo Nielsen
Religion and Education in Kerala, India
The anthropology of caste in India has conventionally rendered caste as a category of traditional religion, something that has been challenged by a historical anthropology of caste and its transformations under colonialism. Given this deconstruction of caste as tradition, how are we to approach its highly charged and contested presence within contemporary democratic politics in India? Examining the everyday institutional workings of secularism and democratic citizenship through the key institution of education, the article situates caste in relationship to secular modernity. In an analysis of the cultural politics of caste, religion, and secularism in a low-caste college in Kerala, India, that caters to the Ezhava caste community, the article argues for an understanding of caste as a fault line for the contested negotiations of tradition and modernity, the private and the public, the religious and the secular that mark contemporary cultural politics in India.
The controversy over rewriting history textbooks in India in 2000 not only revealed the divergent renditions of collective memory but also evoked decades of contention over self-representation and cultural identity. This article explores these "multiple" renderings of a "singular" past and contends the formation of "historical identities" by arguing that divergent use of reason and interpretation leads to a layered and uid Indian identity leaving it open for contestation. By situating the case of the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb within the milieu from which textbook controversies emanate, the article suggests an alternative dimension for looking at the controversy—instead of the usual binary concept of "secular" versus "communal" history. At the root of the controversy is not merely politicization but also divergent perspectives of looking at the past and the resultant rethinking and reworking of dominant notions of it.
A view from inside India's ethnographic state
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.
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.
Directly Observed Treatment – Short-course (DOTS) has been promoted by the WHO globally as the preferred standard approach to tuberculosis control and treatment since the mid 1990s. In India, DOTS has been gradually implemented as a national programme since 1997, covering the entire country by 2006. DOTS is a highly complex healthcare intervention that involves universal monitoring of all patients, access to high quality drugs and the adoption of an individually supervised drug intake by patients through a system of DOT-providers. This article discusses the gradual implementation of DOTS in India as an intervention based on politically agreed 'truths' that create 'successful treatment stories' and 'defaulters', and it explores dimensions of temporality linked to the understanding of 'event' at different ontological scales from the perspectives of 'defaulters' and the health care system respectively.
The Metaphysics of Police Vigilantism in India
This article describes and explains “police vigilantism” as a mode of authoritative extralegal coercion performed by public police officials conceived as doing their duty to realize justice in the world. Based on ethnographic observations, interviews, and content analysis of news and entertainment media as well as official government reports, this essay examines a specific form of police vigilantism in contemporary India known as “encounter killings”. Demonstrating that encounter killings are widely constituted as a form of ritual purification and social defense by self-sacrificing police, it theorizes a metaphysics of police vigilantism in India that combines generalized experiences of insecurity with shared cosmologies of just war. Comparing this metaphysics with justifications of state violence in other Global South contexts, this study sheds light on how such violence may be legitimated through the conceptual inextricability of law and war as embodied in a uniquely constituted human figure: the police vigilante.
A Portuguese Viceroy's Account of a Voyage to India
João Vicente Melo
More than a mere travel diary the account written by Francisco Raimundo Moraes Pereira of the voyage of the Portuguese viceroy Francisco de Távora to India offers an interesting description of how the long journey between Lisbon and Goa was the first stage of a long process that transformed an aristocrat into an alter ego of the monarch. This article explores how Moraes Pereira combined a travel diary, with detailed notes on the daily life of the Carreira da India, and a panegyric concerned in fabricating an ideal image of a viceroy.
Globalization as Imperialism in Pico Iyer's Video Night in Kathmandu
Malini Johar Schueller
This article teases out the complex intersections between Pico Iyer's Video Night in Kathmandu as an Orientalist travel narrative and as a treatise on the cultural flows of globalization by analyzing the politics of Iyer's adoption of a migrant, cosmopolitan persona as well as his conscious attempt to rewrite the gendered hierarchies of imperialism. It examines the unspoken privileges of whiteness and Westernness in Iyer's adoption of a decentered persona that struggles to overcome (particularly in his chapter on India) being interpellated as “Indian.” The larger purpose of the essay is to interrogate the rhetoric of cultural globalization as beyond the hierarchies of imperialism.
The Discourse of “Discovery” in Early English Writings on India
Pramod K. Nayar
This article unravels a discourse of discovery in early English writings on India, suggesting that this discourse works through three stages. The first stage constructs a fantasy of discovery about India even before the Englishman's arrival in the country. This demanded a representation of Indian wonders and the wondrous geographical-physical expansion of England into the distant reaches of the known world. In the second stage a narrative organization of the "discoveries" of Indian wealth and variety was achieved through the deployment of three dominant rhetorical modes—visuality, wonder, and danger. In the final stage the Englishman meticulously documented but also sought to explain the discoveries in the narrative form of the "inquiry." The "inquiry" shifted the discourse from that of India as a wondrous space to India as knowable and therefore manageable one. The sense of wonder modulates into a more organized negotiation, as a quest for specific information and as means of providing this information.