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Panel 4:
Resistance and Solidarities

Faculty Discussants

Darryl Li Uchicago.png

Professor Darryl Li

University of Chicago
Gabriel Dattatreyan.png

Professor Gabriel Dattatreyan

Goldsmiths, University of London


Dr. Sushmita Pati

National Law School of India University
Reimagining the Right to the City: Flows, Fixity and the Limitations of the Citizenship Discourse

Abstract: As India halted grindingly at 8 PM on the 25th of March 2020, after Prime Minister Modi’s declaration of probably one of the harshest lockdown in the world; migrant workers, most of whom are daily wage earners were forced to walk all the way to their homes without food or water. The issue of migrant workers, who are not necessarily “vote banks” for the destination states, and sometimes not for their source states either; probably stared India in its face for the first time in history. Mobility has been a fact in human history (Tumbe, 2018). Circular or seasonal migrants, who move across their homes and the cities, even more so (Breman, 1996). Citizenship on the other hand, needs fixity. The state making project has historically needed people to settle down and have introduced a regime of documentary proofs trying them to places, material goods and identities. In the case of the migrant workers having to walk for hundreds of kilometers may be too stark, but not an aberration. Being away from their “homes”, most migrants find themselves unable to access subsidized ration or other state benefits and most importantly their ability to vote. The question of migration has always been at odds with statemaking (Scott, 1998; Cohn, 1996). Nation states, borders, documentary regimes have worked to map people onto fixed geographical boundaries(Zamindar, 2007; Mezzadra and Neilsen, 2013). However, the fact of migration has constantly undercut and challenged these regimes. The experience of different kinds of migration has transformed the nature of the discourse across Global North and Global South. I argue that while housing rights in the north has to a great extent taken ‘flows’ into account, the question of housing rights in India has been looked at through the lens of ‘fixity’. I argue that primarily because of the experience of immigration and financialisation of property since the 19th Century in the global north has allowed for a more fluid imagination of who lives in these cities and what kinds of rights need to be articulated for them. Rent strikes, eviction observatories and even anti-surveillance campaigns have attempted to create a far more dynamic understanding of housing rights at the cusp of rights of immigrants, the structural injustice of financialisation and race (Roy et. al 2016). In the case of India, given that property is not financialised in the way it is financialised in the global north, and the experience of migration has also mostly been internal, the right to housing has long been framed through the lens of citizenship. I argue that this narrow fixed framing of citizenship as the basis of housing rights has precluded the Indian discourse on housing rights from making radical claims on the right to shelter.

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

James Evans

Harvard University
Global Maoism, Black Power, and Leftist Internationalism in India's Naxalite Movement

Abstract: India’s Naxalite movement emerged at the height of the Cold War as a distinctly South Asian manifestation of Mao Zedong Thought, or Maoism. The malleability of Maoism—an ideology that advocated for violent revolution in the countryside as crucial to winning political victory—suited the movement’s leaders in their aims to consolidate and promote their own political power. The Maoist label often attributed to the group, however, obscures alternate international sources of inspiration, most notably those of the Black Power movement in the United States and the broader international Left in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than taking Maoism as a singular source, the Naxalite leaders took a pluralistic approach to influences from other movements and ideologies whose broad aims aligned with the Naxalite mission. This presentation argues that by exploring the mechanism of how the Naxalites fused Maoism with other local and global sources of inspiration, Maoism exceeds nation state-centric explanations that consider it as a Chinese ideology. Instead, by examining how Maoist ideological syncretism occurred between and among different leftist organizations, distinct from the Chinese Communist Party’s own interpretation of Maoist dogma, Maoism appears as less of a distinctly Chinese phenomena, and more of a Cold War iteration of earlier expressions of anti-imperial, anti-colonial, and anti-oppression movements. By considering the Naxalite movement from the perspective of the transnational networks that used Maoism as one component in a shared revolutionary vocabulary, new potential interpretations are revealed as to how these networks not only evolved, but also why they have persisted in South Asia far beyond Maoism’s lifecycle in the PRC.

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Nico Millman

University of Pennsylvania
Racial Capitalism and Caste in R.B. More’s Memoirs of a Dalit Communist

Abstract: This paper examines the recently translated Marathi-language Memoirs of a Dalit Communist: The Many Worlds of R.B. More (edited by Anupama Rao and translated into English by Wandana Sonalkar) in relation to debates about racial capitalism and Indian caste hierarchies. This Dalit memoir, I argue, theorizes caste and practices of Untouchability as a precolonial form of racism that unevenly articulate with emergent class formations in Bombay during the early twentieth century. Through detailing his travels between rural Maharashtra and urban Bombay, as well as his involvement in Ambedkarite anti-caste movements and communist politics, More shows a variety of ways in which British colonial racism, Hindu caste discrimination, and capitalist exploitation and dispossession mutually reinforce one another. This memoir enables critics to reexamine several key debates about race and caste, on the one hand, and about the geographies of racial capitalism, on the other. I pursue this line of inquiry by scrutinizing the legacy of Oliver Cromwell Cox’s 1948 Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics, which argued from a Marxist perspective that racial formations exclusively developed in tandem with the growth of an Atlantic Ocean-centered capitalist world-system. However, Cox excluded Indian caste structures from the category of race and characterized caste as ‘feudal’ or ‘pre-capitalist.’ Isabel Wilkerson challenged Cox’s formulations in her 2020 blockbuster book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which attempted to rethink the category of race vis-a-vis the category of caste in a comparative perspective. However, review essays of Wilkerson’s Caste have rightly critiqued her book's political liberalism (Charisse Burden-Stelly) and its limited geographic focus on Anglophone North America at the expense of more careful attention to colonial casta formations forged within global histories of the Iberian Empire, which connected the Spanish Americas to Portuguese India (Hazel V. Carby). I claim that R.B. More’s memoir provides a crucial supplement to these debates. Through the form of the autobiography, it theorizes a materialist understanding of caste structures and their overlaps with racialized class formation in India, a perspective missing from these conversations. This conference paper concludes with reference to recent social movements that are beginning to illuminate the global dimensions of caste. Black, Dalit, and Sheedi political solidarities across India, East Africa, and the United States are generating new views about the overlaps between anti-Black racism and anti-Dalit casteism in the light of the George Floyd uprisings; socialists like Álvaro García Linera have noted the resurgence of oligarchic casta racism in the 2019 coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia. By reading More’s Memoirs, the debates surfacing in the wake of Wilkerson’s Caste, and these social movements within a single frame, we can begin to grasp hitherto underexplored global dynamics that turn on the question of caste. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Anisha Gogoi

Jawaharlal Nehru University
Sovereign Dreams and Capitalist Seductions: Anxieties of Postcolonial State Making in an Indian Frontier

Abstract: At the eastern territorial ends of the world’s largest democracy, neatly squeezed between South Asia and South East Asia’s once fluid borders lies a frontier space, the North Eastern region. It is a space that the post-colonial Indian state strategically tucks away with an unending saga of military violence and an apathy that dominantly stems out of racial indifference. A cause of embarrassment to India’s democratic fabric, it is from this frontier space that demands for sovereign statehood and independence have been raised even before India woke up from its colonial slumber. Composed of ethnic and tribal groups of Burmese, Mongoloid and South East Asian descent, they are treated as a racial aberration to mainland India’s Hindu and Muslim population groups. Post independence, most groups of the frontier sought the restoration of their earlier pre colonial sovereign realms. And even those who didn’t in a decade or two of being part of the Indian nation realized their subordinate status in the novice nation’s list of priorities. Culturally and linguistically most groups were already excluded from the imagination of an Indian citizen. As rebellions and insurgency fired their way through, the Indian state found the region’s Achilles heel as a resource frontier. Material and monetary seductions are a sure way to dampen the revolutionary spirits of a space seeped in poverty. The post colonial state using covert tactics did just that by acting as a parasitic state to use Obika Gray’s term for extracting resources by creating new regimes of ex militant groups, rebels who are in a state of ceasefire and elites from the core ethnic and tribal groups. This parasitic approach of the post colonial state sees the formation of predatory groups who rely on violent and illegal forms of rule thus maintaining the negotiated peace by making material gains. This has led to the dispossession and appropriation of community land, depletion of forest reserves and everyday instances of the state engaging in extra judicial violence with blatant disregard to human rights in the region. As the capitalist spectre of Chinese Communism looms over this Indian frontier, the post colonial state once again relies on the legacies of colonial state making to ease its anxieties by metamorphosing into a parasitic entity. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

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