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Accepted Paper:

When Documents Fail: Rethinking Landlessness in Adivasi Life, Telangana (India)  
Meenakshi N Ambujam (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

How and why do adivasis of India continue to remain landless despite possessing title-deeds? Drawing attention to paper-infrastructures—titles, land records and registers—that undergird restitution practices, I argue that documentary artefacts obscure subtler manifestations of dispossession.

Paper long abstract:

At a time when calls for effective land governance and titling reforms are emphasised upon by both neoliberal agenda and social movements, title-deeds are considered to grant unambiguous control and ownership of land. Based on thirteen-months of archival and ethnographic fieldwork—in adivasi hamlets and state bureaucracies in Telangana, India— my research questions this claim by drawing attention to how adivasis who have participated in restitution programmes (intended to correct historical injustices through the restoration of land) continue to remain landless despite possessing titles? Focussing on paper-infrastructures (Hull 2012, Mathur 2016)— title-deeds, land records and registers— which are considered outcomes of successful practices of restitution, I argue that documentary artefacts can perversely obscure and co-produce conditions of landlessness they otherwise seek to remedy. Further, these paper-infrastructures, which undergird restitution practices, make it impossible for the adivasis to claim to be ‘landless’ because the documents suggest otherwise. Thus, a population of title-holding adivasis emerge who are owners of land, but devoid of its possession. The inability to possess the restored land, despite the title, complicates how landlessness manifests and how dispossession takes shape. I suggest that the discursive and representational practices of restitution—notably through the production of documents—curate an infrastructure of paper that obfuscates the subtler modalities through which contemporary dispossession operates. By interrogating the documentary practices deeply embedded in restitution schemes, I problematise theoretical conceptualisations of land and elucidate how paper features in adivasis’ relationship with land and experiences of landlessness.

Panel Irre09b
Agricultural infrastructures in a failed ecology II
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -