Abstracts & Papers
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“The Muck of the Past”: Revolution, Social Transformations and the Maoists in India
This paper addresses the relationship between ideology and the politico-economic forces of history in addressing inequality – both at the level of theory and praxis. Taking the case of the Indian Maoists, the paper explores a political struggle to address inequality, asks why such a movement persists in India, and then explores why it is likely to fail. The paper suggests that the Maoist case calls for us to reinsert the material forces of history into our projects, theories and ideologies of social change which address inequality.
Reflections in the Media Mirror: Social Energy, Social Chaos, Sociality
This paper will consider the overlapping of two dominant aspects of contemporary Indian reality. The first is the youth demographic of the country; the second is the marked proliferation of media forms and institutions within its borders in recent times. India is the youngest among the world’s largest countries, with the 2011 census estimating that over half its population is under 25 years of age. It is also witnessing a rapid ”mediazation” of its modern culture, to borrow sociologist John B. Thompson’s phrase, especially in the years following the liberalization, privatization and globalization of its economy from the early nineties onwards. What has the simultaneity of these two phenomena meant for Indian society? Has it led to a deepening of social divisions, the homogenization of communities, or both? Has the rising presence of the “new media” – a mélange of media forces based on digital and communication technologies and social networking sites – and that of its youthful champions, meant an expansion of spaces for democratic expression and opportunities for sociality? This paper will try and answer some of these questions by revisiting three recent media-driven developments: the street demonstrations that broke out in the Capital and spread to other parts of the country following the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus in 2012; the emergence of the anti-corruption mobilizations of 2011; and the stone pelting interregnum in the Kashmir Valley in 2010. It concludes that the potential of the modern media to unleash social energy and social chaos, often in equal measure, has as yet not been adequately fathomed by the elected rulers of the country.
How Backward are the Other Backward Classes? Changing Contours of Caste Disadvantage in India
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While there is a growing literature on the political rise of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in India, where they are often seen as the new elite or the dominant castes, detailed empirical assessments of their socio-‐economic condition are practically non-‐existent. Using individual-‐ level data from the National Sample Survey for 1999-‐2000, our paper is one of the first to undertake a comprehensive empirical exercise, both at the national as well as the regional levels. We compare five age-‐cohorts (75-‐65; 64-‐55; 54-‐45; 44-‐35 and 34-‐25 year olds) for OBCs, SC-‐STs and Others (everybody else) and examine the differences in key indicators such as educational attainment, occupation and activity status, wages and consumption expenditure through a difference-‐in-‐differences method. Comparing gaps between older and younger cohorts across groups, we find evidence of convergence in primary education attainment and lower (i.e. literacy) across groups. However, we find evidence of divergence in higher educational levels, specifically those with higher secondary or higher levels of education. Similarly, for occupation, we find convergence across caste groups in blue-‐collar jobs, but divergence in white-‐collar jobs. Thus, gaps between OBCs and Other appear to be closing in some basic dimensions but not in the more prestigious educational and occupational categories. Finally, the paper discusses how, and to what extent, this evidence could be linked to the possible effects of the reservation policy for OBCs.
Divergent Pathways for Social Mobility among Hereditary Musicians in the Garhwali Music Industry
Since the early 1980s, new vernacular media industries have emerged in urban centers across India, and have altered the landscape of musical and cultural expression. This paper examines the impact of this mediated environment on musicians from three hereditary communities in the Garhwal Himalayas (Uttarakhand): Baddi, Bajgi, and Jagariya. Why have some hereditary musicians been able to successfully insert themselves into this urban media environment, while others have been marginalized and even exploited through mass-mediated representations?
By attending to the experiences of several hereditary musicians and by interrogating the body politics of several mass-mediated representations, this paperidentifies some of the ideological and behavioral causes of this inconsistency. At the level of social thought, I focus on the influence of entrenched and widely-shared conceptions about caste-based status, social function, and gendered performance. At the level of social practice, I focus on the adaptability of particular musical forms and styles, systems of remuneration, and forms of physical and social mobility. Taken together, these factors shape who is allowed to participate in mass-mediated musical productions, and how they are ultimately represented on video and cassette albums.
LAURA DUDLEY JENKINS
“Bottle the prejudices and nullify the injustice”: Casteism and countercasteism in India
This paper will appraise efforts to challenge casteism in India in light of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s discussion of counterracism in Commonwealth (2009, 37-8, 326-44). In a passage on revolutionary identity politics, they raise three goals of counterracist efforts: exposing, combating and ultimately annihilating race. The first task is to reveal the “violence and hierarchy of identity” (329). This is especially urgent when many people are proclaiming that we are already in a postracial/postcaste world. The second task is “the struggle for freedom” that moves beyond revealing injury toward achieving liberation, meaning the “freedom to determine what you can become” (331). Finally, the third and most controversial task of revolutionary identity politics is to abolish identity (332). Some revolutionary feminists, workers movements, queer theorists, and counterracists/countercasteists ultimately aim to annihilate identities and work toward “the creation of a new humanity” (336).
Several contemporary policies, programs or movements attempt to expose, combat or annihilate caste in India. Official and unofficial attempts to recognize or publicize caste-based inequalities or discrimination (ranging from Constitutional clauses to U-Tube videos) expose casteism and reduce blindness to caste privilege. Going beyond recognition of casteism, affirmative action or reservation policies in government jobs, higher education, and legislatures combat caste by partially offsetting historic and ongoing discrimination on the basis of caste. The most radical step is annihilation of caste, which has been attempted through such actions as conversion. This paper draws together my research on the politics of reservations (particularly in higher education) and conversions to better understand the multiple dimensions of inequality and strategies to advance mobility.
Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change: Caste, Class and Mobility in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, North India
There exists a widely held view that a “silent revolution” is occurring in North India. However, the literature that deals with how this revolution has changed the distribution of economic opportunities on the ground, is rather scanty. Drawing on two years’ ethnographic research between 2005 and 2010 in a village and its region in western Uttar Pradesh (UP), this paper uncovers the complex and contradictory processes of development and change taking place in contemporary India. This paper examines the ways in which different social groups are responding to recent economic and political changes, particularly around employment and livelihood, in the wake of neo-liberal reforms and the political rise of lower caste groups across north India and western UP over the last two decades. This paper shows that rural economic structure is indeed changing. The breakdown of the ‘jajmani’ system, agricultural commercialisation, rapid decline in landholdings, the implementation of reservation for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in public sector jobs, and the shift of the economy away from agriculture all contribute to the dissociation of caste from occupation, and decline of old labor relations and social solidarities based on kin and community. The effect of these changes forms contradictory pattern. The implication is that the new economy is being shaped along caste and ethnic lines with some exceptions. This paper contributes to our understanding of the complicated and changing nature of the relationships between caste, class and samaj (cultural community) in contemporary India.
The Idea of a Bill of Rights for Women: Violence, Multiple Discrimination and the Imagination of Justice
The unabated violence against women, sexual minorities, Dalits, minorities and indigenous communities in India, it's resurgence even, resurrects older debates on subjugation, repression and resistance struggles. There are layers of new meanings and forms and articulations of suffering and harm that grow over these older debates on inequality and discrimination that signal shifts in economic realities and legal (im)possibilities -- spreading the sense of imminent crisis. The (mis)appropriations of ideas of justice, by the state, by non-state actors and "the people", drive new vectors of change at the intersection of law, governance and public debate. The emergence of a new common sense on the (co)habitations of gender based discrimination and the interrogation of the very construction of crisis itself -- "is this the worst that has happened?" -- are at the centre of the renewed imagination of justice.
This paper will use the events and debates around the Report of the Committee on Amendments in Criminal Law headed by Justice Verma that recommended wide ranging changes in the law on sexual assault to open out the possibilities that a Bill of Rights for Women holds for a different imagination of justice -- looking at the specific situation of women, but also at the ways in which larger questions of modernity, impunity, targeted assault, the existing recognition of "atrocity" in the law and state practice inform and are shaped by these debates.
Disrupting Migration Stories: Spaces and Times of Mobility and Fixity among Manual Workers in India and the UK
This paper departs from many contemporary accounts of migration, that emphasise i) the transnational, and ii) long term moves from one place to another, by illustrating the ordinariness not only of migration itself, but of short-term moves, including moves within national borders. Further, it challenges approaches that seek to characterize people either as migrants or ‘locals’/ ‘natives’/ ‘indigenous’ by taking a long term approach, using life histories, which illustrate how the same person may sometimes move, and at other times be fixed in place; migrate both across borders and within them. Moreover, to enter the agenda of this conference and contribute to understanding of the connections between spatial mobility on the one hand, and sociality and inequality on the other, the paper explores some of the complex histories and geographies of migration, as well as the connections between everyday mobilities, such as travel around a city or significant one-off journeys, and longer term moves of residence.
Throughout I attempt to highlight the political economy of migration – both the unequal power relations that fix people, who are unable to migrate, in place, while others are left with no option but to move; and the ways in which capital and the state take advantage of divisions within a workforce made up of ‘migrants’ and ‘newcomers’. At the same time inequality is conceived of as more than economic, and scale of analysis, whether international, national, regional or local, is seen to shape conclusions about the connections between inequality and mobility. At the scale of the body a detailed exploration of migrant subjectivities and individuality further disrupts received and uncontextualised categorisations. The paper draws both on my earlier research in eastern India and on more recent UK-based fieldwork.
Unfriendly Bodies, Unfriendly Cities: Reflections on Loitering and Gendered Public Space
In this presentation I seek to further develop the ideas around loitering put forth in Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets, a book I co-authored where we argued that the celebration of loitering was an important way of claiming city public spaces in defiance of laws against loitering after sunset and before sunrise. We argued that the only way in which women might find unconditional access to public space was if everyone, including those who were not necessarily friendly to women also had unconditional access. Subsequently in conversations with feminist activists who work particularly with young women we’ve been challenged several times on the grounds that everyone loitering includes even those ‘others’ (often young men) who intimidate young women and inhibit their access thus in fact restricting the access of young women.
I reflect on the question of unfriendly bodies in cities: who they might be and what they might mean for varied marginal groups’ access to public space as well as the idea of unfriendly cities; understood both as cities full of all kinds of risks as well as cities premised on exclusion in quest of ‘global sanitized utopias’.
Focusing on a politics of justice in access to public space, this paper asks: What does it mean to stake an equal claim for all to loiter in public space? What are the claims of different kinds of bodies and how can we arrive at an idea of justice that at least attempts to address the claims of as many different groups as possible?
Perceptions of Poverty, Social Relations and Life Goals Among Debt—Migrants in India
This paper presents an alternative viewpoint on debt-migration in brick-kilns and the construction
industry, through migrants’ perceptions of poverty, identity, aspirations and long term life goals.
Often described as neo-slavery and neo-bondage, debt-migration has been viewed as an extension of
caste and class based exploitation by policy makers, academics and NGOs alike. In contrast migrants’
perceptions of their own life trajectories and the role of particular labour markets and social relations
(especially labour market intermediaries) are fundamentally different. The paper shows that while
migrants perceive their own situation to be much more dignified and on an upward trajectory, others
see them as moving from one desperate situation to another with little or no prospects for improving
their life chances. The paper concludes by arguing for a more nuanced view of the risks and
opportunities offered by migration rather than the polarised and bleak view that is enshrined in a
number of development policies. The author also calls for more support for poor migrants who,
owing to the negative policy context, have to take unnecessary risks in their quest to benefit from
India’s growth. The research draws on informal discussions, observation and interviews with
migrants, employers and recruitment agents in urban and rural areas of three states with diverse
cultural, governance and development contexts, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra
between 2006 and 2009.
Medical garbage and neoliberalism in Chennai
Beginning in the 1980s, as plastic came to infuse daily life in the Indian household, so too did plastic come to infuse India’s everyday healthcare. Following these developments, alongside other post-liberalisation regulatory reforms, in 1998 the Government of India published its Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. In Chennai, the Rules’ implementation has simultaneously, if inadvertently, consolidated and intensified the commoditisation of bio-medical waste. This paper argues that this traffic in medical garbage is not a product of neoliberalism in India. Instead, it is through innumerable stories like this one that the ‘Indian neoliberal’ gains meaning.
India's New Rights Agenda: genesis, promises, risks
Since 2004, India has introduced a series of landmark national acts that legislate a right to new civic prerogatives and various socioeconomic entitlements. According to many, the introduction of these national acts and pressure to extend their purview to other subjects and domains signify a ‘new welfare architecture’ with a distinct ‘social contract’ in modern Indian democracy. What explains the emergence of India’s new rights-based social agenda? How are the rights enshrined in these laws generally conceptualized, operationalized and pursued? What are the promises, risks and challenges—legal, political and economic—of enshrining various civic entitlements as formal statutory rights? Can such an approach serve to address the deep structural determinants of inequality in a postcolonial society such as India? Or does it merely represent a new palliative response, the latest manifestation of neoliberal governmentality, to the evolving power asymmetries in contemporary Asia?
This paper engages these questions. First, I argue that three slow-burning processes beginning in the 1980s, distinct yet interwoven, constitute the genesis of India’s new welfare paradigm: progressive judicial activism by the Supreme Court, a partial ‘counter-movement’ to rapid uneven development and popular democratic mobilization based on lower-caste assertion. Significantly, all three processes exposed the growing nexus between political corruption and socioeconomic inequality. Second, an integral feature of India’s new welfare architecture is the attempt to renew the purpose, capacity and accountability of the state. On the one hand, many of these acts devise innovative governance mechanisms that seek to enhance political transparency, responsiveness and accountability. On the other, the state has pursued a slate of large-scale initiatives of systematic bureaucratic reform. Finally, I evaluate the promises and risks of this innovative state-building process. The introduction of a range of new civic rights and governance mechanisms in India in recent years has fashioned new political incentives to mobilize progressive coalitions in electoral contestation and across the state-and-society divide. Various risks exist, however, including official political resistance from above and below, the limited existing capacities of judicial actors, state bureaucracies and social forces, and the relatively narrow base of many of these new movements. The paper concludes by considering several imperatives that India’s evolving rights movement must confront to realize its ambition.
Dancing in Place: Creativity, Mobility, and the New Media
There is no better vantage point for understanding the implications of Jharkhand’s new album culture than Ranchi’s largest Ghasi neighborhood, on its eastern side, just north of the railway tracks. It is a densely populated few square miles that you will not find on any map. For hundreds of years, Ghasis have been the “kings” (the Nayaks) of Nagpuri regional music culture in Jharkhand. Ghasi elders are still its best poets, instrumentalists, and singer-dancers (male and female). Marginalized socially (officially S.C.), they nevertheless have been the guardians of the region’s signature cultural capital, shared across linguistic groups, castes and classes. Even within a hierarchical patronage system, Ghasis perfected creative strategies of protest, subversion, and individual expression, which were eagerly appropriated by their patrons until perhaps twenty years ago.
These days, the mohalla is home to a couple of professional Ghasi performance troupes, who are hired to represent “tribal” culture to visiting businessmen and dignitaries. Their repertories are sparse, unchanging and comfortably non-controversial. On the other hand, most nights in Nayak Mohalla vibrate with loud, distorted, modern Nagpuri songs blaring from competing CDs and VCDs, all of which are produced by middle-class Bengalis and Biharis. Ghasis can claim no creative voice or artistic strategy here, except for the kids, who dance to the albums in dark alleyways with remarkable relish and creativity.
Economic liberalization may have democratized access to technology for young Ghasi consumers, but it has blocked their access to creative production as artists in the new media. In this paper, I consider the complex relationship between public creativity and socio-economic mobility in neo-liberal Jharkhand and the implications for the young Ghasis of Nayak Mohalla.