Dalits and Dispossession


Dalits and Dispossession: A Comparison” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2019.1597145) is the first article for a forthcoming special issue on the new land wars in India. The article is authored by Samantha Agarwal and Michael Levien, both of the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University in the USA.

The abstract for this fascinating paper states:


Widespread “land wars” in contemporary India have rekindled older debates over the implications of capitalism for caste, with some arguing that land dispossession for new economy projects may be liberating for Dalits. We assess this argument through comparative ethnographic and survey research into the consequences of dispossession for Dalits in the cases of two Special Economic Zones built during the 2000s. We advance three arguments. The first, methodological, is that approaching this question requires systematically comparing the outcomes of dispossession for Dalits relative to upper castes. The second, based on such an assessment, is that the interaction between exclusionary growth and caste-based agrarian inequalities has in both cases expanded socio-economic inequalities between upper and lower castes and left most dispossessed Dalits worse off in absolute terms. Third, the cases demonstrate important qualitative differences across generally bad outcomes for Dalits, which derive from the combination of project characteristics and pre-existing agrarian inequalities. While demonstrating how the exclusionary growth driving dispossession in contemporary India is generally unpromising for Dalits, we underscore the importance of comparative ethnographic research into the interaction between different forms of dispossession and specific agrarian social structures.

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