Indigeneity, Extractive Capitalism, and the Developmental State in Postcolonial Jharkhand

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM
Waldorf Room (Hilton Chicago)
Matthew Shutzer, New York University
This paper tracks the making and re-making of the indigenous autonomy movement in India’s Chhotanagpur plateau, a region that had become by the mid-twentieth century the center of the new nation-state’s extractive coal economy. The movement was first institutionalized in the 1930s under the Adibasi Mahasabha, and later, as the Jharkhand Party, under the leadership of large-landowners within the plateau region. Prominent members of the Jharkhand Party were rooted in the region’s political economy of fossil fuel extraction. This first wave of Jharkhandist political leadership grounded its claims for an autonomous province through the idioms of a shared ethnic identity. To strive for Jharkhand as an independent province within India meant, in the words of the movement’s early leader Jaipal Singh, to strive for “an indigenous homeland.” The internal contradictions of this ethnic identity broke down during the 1960s as the Jharkhand Party became a political vassal of Bihar’s Congress Party and the region continued on a path of economic immiseration characterized by land-intensive extractive industry. In its wake, radical student, peasant, and worker movements emerged to assert a new Jharkhandist identity premised on the expropriation of both mine and landowners, and the fulfillment of earlier programs to redistribute agricultural property rights. These new Marxist-inspired radicals did not turn away from the politics of ethnicity, but worked instead to mobilize coalitional struggles that linked both adibasi (indigenous) and worker identities through shared histories of dispossession and state neglect. Reading indigenous politics through the lens of extractive industry, this work interrogates how ethnic identities were reinforced by the specific social structures of landownership in the mining region. It concludes by considering how ethnicity was later seen to fail as a form of emancipatory politics in the context of increased state violence against land reform movements in the mining belt.
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