Accepted Paper:

Narratives of capital, narratives of community: ethnographic notes on development and Dalits in Tamil Nadu  


Rajan Krishnan (Loyala College)

Paper short abstract:

Planning development, the state and the civil society organizations are situated within the narratives of capital. The political aspirations of Dalits are situated within the narratives of community. The disjuncture between the narratives produces both limitations and opportunities.

Paper long abstract:

Like Walter Benjamin's famous description of the angel

of history in Paul Klee's painting, Dalit communities caught in the

whirlwind of development look towards the past they are leaving while

being hurled into uncertain future. It is a disquieting departure,

combining elation and desperation, euphoria and trepidation. While it

relieves them from the shackles of an unfair system of labor

relationships determined by rigid, humiliating disabilities of caste

system, it does not offer them any assurance of benefiting from

capitalist development on an equal footing with others. Their

political capacity to bargain for their share rests on the narratives

of community; whereas, developmental planning and action are part of

the narratives of capital with the State and the right bearing,

deracinated individual forming the two conceptual poles. In the

discourses of economics the pre-existing community is being erased

enumerated and contained without the capacity to intervene in the

process of development. Curiously, community identities play a crucial

role in electoral democracy where contestations over political power

are played out. This background sets up the tense relationships

between NGOs and political parties both seeking to improve the lives

of Dalits through their actions in the domains of civil society and

political society respectively. Borrowing the characterizations used by

Partha Chatterjee, the paper will describe this as a disjuncture

between narratives of capital and narratives of community. The

disjuncture produces both limits and opportunities that the paper will

map through combining ethnographic notes and political theory.

Panel W067
The developmental turn in Dalit activism: disquieting caste and capitalism in contemporary India