Masters not friends : land, labor and politics of place in rural Pakistan
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This dissertation analyzes the cultural significance of land relations and caste/religious identity to understand political subjectivity in Punjab, Pakistan. The ethnography details the vicissitudes of a peasant land rights movement, Anjuman-e Mazarin Punjab (Punjab Tenants Association) that is struggling to retain land rights on vast agricultural farms controlled by the Pakistan army. The dissertation argues that land struggles should not only be understood in tropes of locality, but also as interconnected processes that attend to global and local changes in governance. To emphasize these connections, the dissertation gives a relational understanding of 'politics of place' that attends to a range of practices from the history of colonial infrastructure projects (the building of canals, roads and model villages) that transformed this agricultural frontier into the heart of British colonial administration. Similarly, the ethnographic chapters relate the history of 'place making' to the present day uncertainty for small tenant sharecroppers who defied the Pakistan Army's attempts to change land relations in the military farms. Within these parameters, this ethnographic study offers a "thick description" of Punjab Tenants Association to analyze the internal shifts in loyalties and alignments during the course of the protest movement by looking at how caste, religious and/or class relations gain or lose significance in the process. My research seeks to counter the predominant understanding of Muslim political subjectivity, which privileges religious beliefs over social practices and regional identity. Another aspect of my work elucidates the symbolic exchange between the infrastructural project of irrigation, railway construction and regional modernity in central Punjab. The network of canals, roads and railways transformed the semi-arid region of Indus Plains and created a unique relationship between the state and rural society in central Punjab. However, this close relationship between rural Punjab and state administration is not void of conflict but rather it indicates a complex sense of attachment and alienation, inclusion and exclusion from the state.