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Friday 8 May, 4.30 pm

Mapping Labour and Work Ideologies in Contemporary rural India

Smita Yadav, University of Sussex

How do contemporary ethnographies of labour and work reveal the redundancy of traditional ways of understanding rural societies as in India? Historically speaking, village studies on India have traditionally tried to focus on the role of kinship, family, and caste institutions.  Based on a year long fieldwork in a labour colony in central India, I study contemporary rural Indian which on the contrary shows an Indian village is extremely dynamic and is highly contested by the State and is shaped by the wider economy thus challenging this current tradition dominating Indian village studies. My study is on the Gonds, a tribal community in central India who are facing a threat to their traditional forms of living due to forest enclosures and restricted access  creating unintended forms of social aspirations and desires for the Gonds’s families like care and social protection. Instead of the traditional views of protests and resistance to forest restrictions, the Gonds respond to these economic challenges  by laboring in the informal economy and perform non-forest based livelihoods like road construction, migration, and home construction in the Indian cities and remain debt-free and independent to their extended kinship relations. In this paper, using the case-study of Gonds households, I intend to show how increasingly important it is for anthropologists studying India to be aware of such dynamic working lives of vulnerable populations like Gonds which is reshaping their relation with the neoliberal Indian state. It  demands the need to go beyond family, kinship, and other social categories and instead, focus on the relation of vulnerable populations with the informal economy.

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