MSAS Seminar: An Anthropology of 'Sovereignty' - Sanjaya Sristava (SOAS). New Land Markets, an Entrepreneurial State and the Aspirations of a ‘Criminal Caste’ in Gurgaon, Haryana -

Chair: David Gellner

Speaker: Sanjay Srivastava (SOAS)

Over the past three decades, the largely rural district of Gurgaon in Haryana has witnessed intense urbanisation and land monetisation. The local Gujjar community is the most recent beneficiary of the new market in land. Gujjars are a ‘Denotified Tribe’. That is, their names have been taken off the list of ‘Criminal Castes and Tribes’ promulgated during the colonial era. Seeking integration into Gurgaon’s urban modernity, the ‘stigma’ of being an ex-criminal tribe and how to overcome it is a frequent point of discussion. Deeply felt among a community that has recently transformed into ‘land-sale millionaires’ from a relatively disadvantaged position, the stigma is frequently expressed as the incapacity for self-definition, and stereotyping by the state. Strategies of ‘recuperation’ of sovereignty over Gujjar identity do not, however, involve eschewing caste identity it but, rather, its re-inscription in Gurgaon’s urban modernity. Gujjar communities in Gurgaon utilize a variety of strategies towards this end, utilising new land wealth towards inscribing ‘Gujjarness’ into the urban landscape. These include the refashioning of domestic spaces and weddings; road signs that list Gujjars in ‘important’ government positions; and a recently inaugurated Gujjar Mahotsav (festival) that showcases Gujjar culture. In this paper, I provide an ethnography of ‘sovereignty’ in order explore the ways in which a new and sovereign Gujjar self is imagined through the same processes – of the state and capital – that are blamed for producing Gujjar incapacity and subalternity.

Sanjay Srivastava is British Academy Global Professor at SOAS University of London. His research interests include urban cultures, consumerism, masculinities and middle-class cultures. His publications include Entangled Urbanism. Slum, Gated Community and Shopping Mall in Delhi in Gurgaon (OUP, 2015), Masculinity, Consumerism and the Post-National City. Streets, Neighbourhoods, Home (2022, Cambridge University Press) and ‘Relational Flexibility: Skills, “Personality Development” and the Limits of Theorising Neoliberal Selfhood in India’ (2022, American Ethnologist, 49 (4)). Till 2020, Sanjay worked at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Between 2012-2016, he was co-editor of the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology.