Accepted Paper:

Struggles over indigeneity in Kerala  


Luisa Steur (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Discussing a particular episode in the struggle over indigeneity in Kerala, I focus on the particular ways activists try to politically appropriate the notion of indigeneity to claim land and livelihood rights, despite the weight of dominant indigenous imaginaries and in a context of decreasing politically progressive opportunities in Kerala.

Paper long abstract:

Since the early 1990s indigeneity has become a notion that is central to ongoing political struggles over land and livelihood in the Indian state of Kerala. The legal category of the adivasi in India developed out of colonial racial theories about tribality as a necessary sign of belonging to an 'aboriginal' race marginalized by the arrival of other groups. Essentializing and unrealistic imaginaries, still dominant in present-day notions of indigenism, moreover continue to work against, and perversely impact, subaltern politics. On the other hand, they are invoked by adivasi and dalit activists themselves, who are often aware of the 'dark side' of indigeity but nevertheless try to both use and renegotiate the meaning of indigenous identity to best balance different political necessities—of claiming political and economic rights, challenging entrenched political interests, assuring internal solidarity, and gaining external political support. Under circumstances of general economic and political stagnation under the impact of neoliberalism in Kerala, these activists' connecting of different subaltern political currents and aspirations under the banner of indigeneity therefore starkly displays both the limits and possibilities of progressive politics in the present.

Panel W035
Indigenous, autochthonous and national identities? Strategic representations, political struggles and epistemological issues (atelier bilingue - anglais et français)