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Emancipation as social equality

Subaltern politics in contemporary India

Indrajit Roy

Keywords: Bihar; caste; class; Dalits; emancipation

Abstract

The ethnographies presented in this article point to the ways in which members of oppressed communities imagine emancipation. Instead of analyzing emancipation as stemming from statist precepts of citizenship, I want to direct attention—along with other articles in this special section—to the “arcadian” spaces in which exploited, marginalized, and discriminated populations forge membership in the political community in contentious engagement with both state and society. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork with Musahar landless laborers in the Indian state of Bihar during the winter and spring of 2009–2010, with follow-up visits in September 2013 and July 2014. I focus on their engagement with two organizations, one a leftist political party and the other a cultural organization, to advance my claims. The ethnography reveals that, for the Musahar laborers, ideas of emancipation are anchored in reclamations of social equality rather than a telos of state-centered citizenship.

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