Land redistribution and Dalit assertion : mapping social change in Gaya, Bihar




Prasad, Indulata

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This dissertation uses social mapping in conjunction with ethnography to undertake a spatial analysis of the long-term effects of legal rights to redistributed land among Dalit communities in Bihar, to reframe what land means to these communities and how it has transformed their immediate social landscape and subjectivities. It does so by assessing questions undergirding the long-term impact of the Bodh Gaya land struggle—that for the first time in the history of social movements in South Asia— resulted in primarily Dalits, including women, securing joint titles along with their husbands. How has ownership of redistributed land shaped Dalit subjectivities in rural South Bihar? What do the altered material and social conditions of Dalits tell us about the claims made by land-based social movements and the State? How have acquiring productive assets for Dalits, a historically marginalized population, altered what is referred to as the ‘hidden apartheid’ in rural India? In answering these questions, attention to social space is crucial, as little attention has been paid to the ways in which rural spatial segregation within the village re-inscribes caste on a daily basis. First, the ownership of redistributed land has allowed for the emergence of a “politics of becoming” that actively opposes practices that perpetuate the social exclusion of Dalits. Through the actual control (kabza) over state owned land, previously under the control of the landed castes/elites, Dalits are effectively undermining the century old practices of kamiauti or servitude in the region and questioning old forms of caste mediated and gender relationships. Second, despite the mainstreaming of gender and land rights issues, the state bureaucracy continues to act as ‘machines for the social production of indifference’ toward the Dalit community. The ‘bureaucratic phase’ of the land struggle is characterized by prolonged inaction that has worked to not only intensify Dalit social suffering, but also has jeopardized the viability of peaceful forms of mobilization and resistance.



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