Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Kinship Matters: Women's Land Claims in the Santal Parganas, Jharkhand/Le Poids De la Famille: Le Droit Des Femmes a la Terre Chez Les Santal Parganas Du Jharkhand

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Kinship Matters: Women's Land Claims in the Santal Parganas, Jharkhand/Le Poids De la Famille: Le Droit Des Femmes a la Terre Chez Les Santal Parganas Du Jharkhand

Article excerpt

Introduction: land, kinship and identity

This article discusses the processes by which kinship relations, particularly patrilineages, are being strengthened amongst the Santal community in a village, called here Chuapara, in Dumka district, Jharkhand (see Map 1). The rise of a democratic state, accepting the notion of equal rights for all citizens, alongside the creation of market institutions (wage labour and land markets, for instance) to meet production requirements, is expected to lead to an erosion of men's base of power in terms of both caste and kinship-based control over land. However, writings in the field of anthropology have demonstrated the continuing importance of kinship in determining property rights and gendered access to resources, social rights, and obligations, and in organizing power and authority. (1) Rather than withering away, social structures of kinship and caste have been re-fashioned, with the upper-caste elite diversifying and dominating non-agricultural assets, not just land. Women, who face disadvantages in terms of education, capital, and mobility while continuing to be held responsible for household maintenance, are further marginalized in this diversification process (Epstein, Suryanarayana & Thimmegowda 1998; Harriss-White & Janakarajan, 2004). Sacks notes that

  the other side of that process is that kin corporations were not
  totally destroyed overnight. Rather they have been and continue to be
  slowly subverted, transformed, and overcome--only to struggle toward
  rebirth repeatedly as a defense against ruling-class attacks, as a
  means of spreading the risks of existence, or as a way of holding
  one's own against poverty. Women, as sisters, mothers, and wives, have
  been the central actors in these struggles. This history has yet to be
  written (1979: 7).

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In this article, I examine the ways in which kinship relations are being reformulated and their implications for gender in a context where the struggle for a separate state of Jharkhand emphasizes not just a class or proletarian identity but also a tribal/adivasi identity. There has been considerable debate on the use of different terms when representing the tribes, as these have varying political connotations. Hardiman notes that the term adivasi is preferable in the Indian context--with over 400 such communities representing close to 8 per cent of the total population--as it relates to 'a particular historical development: that of subjugation' (1987: 15) by traders, moneylenders and landlords (2) who established themselves under the protection of colonial authorities. 'This experience generated a spirit of resistance which incorporated a consciousness of "the adivasi" against "the outsider"' (1987: 15). There are different adivasi groups resident in the study village--the Santals, Kols, and Paharias. The colonial heritage (leading to the loss of land and resources) and the impact of growing materialism and individualism, particularly in relation to market integration (Nathan & Kelkar, 2003), has, however, led many of these groups to mobilize across local and regional borders to assert a shared identity.

Though the adivasis constitute only a quarter of the total population of present-day Jharkhand, one of the justifications for the creation of the new state in 2000 was the marginalization and poverty of the region's populations, particularly the adivasis, within the larger state of Bihar (Sengupta, 1982). (3) In terms of most development indicators--whether employment, income levels, or literacy (4)--the tribes tend to be worse off than other populations in the region. The focus on adivasi identity as part of the Jharkhand movement had a clear political motivation in terms of gaining control over resources, particularly land and forests, viewed as an inalienable part of that identity. Yet, as Singh (1983) points out, the movement has gone through several phases. …

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