On March 28, 2016, CIRS hosted a Faculty Research Workshop on Uday Chandra’s book manuscript Negotiating Leviathan: State and Tribe in Modern India. The manuscript explores how and why certain people and places came to be seen as “tribal” in modern India, and in turn, how “tribal” subjects remade their customs and communities in the course of negotiations with colonial and postcolonial states. Dr. Chandra argues, briefly, that the state and tribes make and remake each other recursively in the margins of modern India, historical processes of modern statemaking shaping and being shaped by myriad forms of resistance by tribal subjects. Implicit here is a critique of theories of “subaltern” resistance that treat tribes and peasants as vestiges of a pre-modern past and at odds with the workings of modern states. Comparatively speaking, the manuscript carries much relevance beyond South Asia, especially in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, where “tribes” continue to be politically salient yet widely misunderstood as pre-modern vestiges.
Research for this book, which comes out of Dr. Chandra’s doctoral project, was conducted over the past decade. Archival research in London, Delhi, Kolkata, Patna, Pune, Bangalore, and Ranchi permitted Chandra to piece together a history of the modern Indian state in its “tribal” margins over the past two centuries. These archives, far from being mere repositories of the state’s own perceptions of tribal communities, presented a polyphonous chorus of voices, ranging from paternalistic British and Indian officials and Christian missionaries seeking converts to tribal subjects from diverse backgrounds speaking in different tongues. In-depth ethnographic research over three years in the forests of Jharkhand in eastern India complemented work in the archives by offering a close-to-the-ground understanding of the everyday lifeworlds of tribal communities residing in this region. As the author lived and worked among the Mundas of central Jharkhand, he listened to their songs, stories, and histories, and observed the ways in which their ways of life were enmeshed with those of the state. Indeed, even the Maoist movement, which was spreading across the region, coexisted curiously with the state, and ordinary men and women lived under circumstances of dual sovereignty.
The participants at the CIRS research workshop came from universities in India, the Gulf, and Europe. These historians, political scientists, anthropologists, and sociologists specialize in the study of modern India. The book manuscript as a whole presented them an opportunity to grapple with the totality of his project rather than just smaller article-length chunks of it. The workshop participants approached the manuscript from their diverse disciplinary positions, though they appreciated that the author wished to speak across conventional disciplinary divides in clear, jargon-free prose. Each participant had been assigned specific chapters, on which they offered detailed comments and criticisms in each session. Other participants raised their own questions for the author, who took copious notes and responded to calls for clarification as well as queries on the specific goals each book chapter sought to accomplish.
The workshop participants suggested vital changes to the manuscript in order to avoid certain pitfalls and to appeal broadly to its intended audiences. Firstly, they recommended rewriting the introductory chapter entirely for a general audience unfamiliar with the subject matter of the book. The introduction, they explained, should reflect the core strengths of the book, namely, the author’s interdisciplinary approach and deep familiarity with his fieldsites and their inhabitants. Secondly, some participants suggested laying out clearly at the outset how the data were collected, especially during ethnographic fieldwork, and rendering the author more visible in the book’s narrative. Doing so, they claimed, would permit readers to appreciate the uniqueness of the research and the author’s close relationships with informants, both of which are implicit rather than explicit at present. Thirdly, other participants argued for a closer braiding together of the historical and ethnographic parts of the manuscript. Each chapter could, of course, make its own arguments, but to the extent that the author argues that the past matters for the present, they need to be brought into close conversation with each other across chapters. Lastly, a number of workshop participants advised the author to clearly define key terms such as the “state,” “resistance,” and “negotiation” so that readers are certain of how they are being deployed in the book. The author thanked the workshop participants for these suggestions, which, he said, will greatly improve the overall quality of the manuscript.
Dr. Chandra is currently in discussions with Stanford University Press regarding the publication of his book. Two other leading university presses have expressed an interest in publishing the book. Since the subject matter of the book should appeal to multiple audiences across regional and disciplinary boundaries, the author has written it in a way that makes sense to even undergraduates unfamiliar with the region of study. The manuscript should be ready for submission this summer, and may be expected to be in print sometime during the 2017-18 academic year. By that time, Dr. Chandra will have commenced work on a second book, tentatively titled Democracy and Fascism in Modern India, which traces the historical entanglements of democratization in the public sphere and fascist tendencies therein that have favored the rise and growth of Hindu majoritarianism over the past century or so. CIRS will be supporting that book project too.
Uday Chandra is an Assistant Professor of Government. He received his B.A. in economics from Grinnell College and his PhD in political science from Yale University in 2013. He received the 2013 Sardar Patel Award for writing the best dissertation in a US university on any aspect of modern South Asia. Before coming to Doha, he held a prestigious research fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Goettingen, Germany. Uday’s research lies at the intersection between critical agrarian studies, political anthropology, postcolonial theory, and South Asian studies He is interested in state-society relations, power and resistance, political violence, agrarian change, rural-urban migration, popular religion, and the philosophy of the social sciences. Uday’s work has been published in the Law & Society Review, Social Movement Studies, New Political Science, The Journal of Contemporary Asia, Contemporary South Asia, and the Indian Economic & Social History Review. He has coedited volumes and journal special issues on the ethics of self-making in modern South Asia, subaltern politics and the state in contemporary India, caste relations in colonial and postcolonial eastern India, and social movements in rural India today.