In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India

Duke University Press
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In the Shadows of the State suggests that well-meaning indigenous rights and development claims and interventions may misrepresent and hurt the very people they intend to help. It is a powerful critique based on extensive ethnographic research in Jharkhand, a state in eastern India officially created in 2000. While the realization of an independent Jharkhand was the culmination of many years of local, regional, and transnational activism for the rights of the region’s culturally autonomous indigenous people, Alpa Shah argues that the activism unintentionally further marginalized the region’s poorest people. Drawing on a decade of ethnographic research in Jharkhand, she follows the everyday lives of some of the poorest villagers as they chase away protected wild elephants, try to cut down the forests they allegedly live in harmony with, maintain a healthy skepticism about the revival of the indigenous governance system, and seek to avoid the initial spread of an armed revolution of Maoist guerrillas who claim to represent them. Juxtaposing these experiences with the accounts of the village elites and the rhetoric of the urban indigenous-rights activists, Shah reveals a class dimension to the indigenous-rights movement, one easily lost in the cultural-based identity politics that the movement produces. In the Shadows of the State brings together ethnographic and theoretical analyses to show that the local use of global discourses of indigeneity often reinforces a class system that harms the poorest people.
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About the author

Alpa Shah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Aug 2, 2010
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780822392934
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / India & South Asia
Political Science / Public Policy / Environmental Policy
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Anthropologist Alpa Shah found herself in an active platoon of Naxalites—one of the longest-running guerrilla insurgencies in the world. The only woman, and the only person without a weapon, she walked alongside the militants for seven nights across 150 miles of dense, hilly forests in eastern India. Nightmarch is the riveting story of Shah's journey, grounded in her years of living with India’s tribal people, an eye-opening exploration of the movement’s history and future and a powerful contemplation of how disadvantaged people fight back against unjust systems in today’s world.

The Naxalites have fought for a communist society for the past fifty years, caught in a conflict that has so far claimed at least forty thousand lives. Yet surprisingly little is known about these fighters in the West. Framed by the Indian state as a deadly terrorist group, the movement is actually made up of Marxist ideologues and lower-caste and tribal combatants, all of whom seek to overthrow a system that has abused them for decades. In Nightmarch, Shah shares some of their gritty untold stories: here we meet a high-caste leader who spent almost thirty years underground, a young Adivasi foot soldier, and an Adivasi youth who defected. Speaking with them and living for years with villagers in guerrilla strongholds, Shah has sought to understand why some of India’s poor have shunned the world’s largest democracy and taken up arms to fight for a fairer society—and asks whether they might be undermining their own aims.

By shining a light on this largely ignored corner of the world, Shah raises important questions about the uncaring advance of capitalism and offers a compelling reflection on dispossession and conflict at the heart of contemporary India.
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