This paper examines a case study of a group where their struggles were focused on their self-emancipation and idealised sense of local community rather than the entrenched structured inequalities.
In examining the significance of global – local interrelationships shaping marginalised peoples, contemporary anthropology of India tends to frame this articulation in the form of the experiences and histories from below by largely drawing on the Subaltern studies scholarship. This usually consists of how local communities utilise nationalist, traditional and translocal signs and ideologies to engage in their own contestations.
By contrast, this paper examines a case study of a group where their struggles were focused on their self-emancipation and idealised sense of local community rather than the entrenched structured inequalities. Based on long term intensive fieldwork in an urban neighbourhood in India, it analyses the experiences of a community of leather workers, known as the Rabi Das, who are currently displaced and dispossessed in the global economy. Concerned with exclusionary practices of untouchability, a group of Gandhian activists in the 1940s began mobilising the Rabi Das, whose ritually polluting status had barred them from social intercourse with others outside their enclave. This paper examines transformations of the Rabi Das self-identity as craftsmen and the simultaneous, paradoxical outcomes of a post-Independence dirigiste development that has rendered a blow to their artisanal activities. It focuses on the Gandhian social reformers’ inculcation of cleanliness, middle class mores, and especially their attempts to make the leather workers discover a dignity in their craft. Following the accounts of Rabi Das acquiescence and resistance, it considers the uneasy relationship between the survival of their hereditary occupation of shoemaking in a globalised leather industry and the Gandhian ‘gifts’ of middle class aspirations.
Speaker: Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase
Wednesday 23 July: 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm
Industry Engagement Room, Building 37, Level 3, Room 18