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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: November 2018

5 - ‘The Fears Have Gone Away’: Making Oppositional Local Rationalities

from Part II - Citizenship


Barlibai is one of the most senior female activists of the AMS. She began her story about her involvement with the Sangathan by recalling her first meeting with Bamniya, who encouraged her to join the movement: ‘He asked me where my land was: “Do you have any problems?” So then I told him that my land is old but the forest guards keep troubling me: “They dig holes. The forest-wallahs—they plant trees and tell me that the sarkar will throw me off the land. I tell them this land is from the time of my ancestors and they have been farming this land for years—this is an old settlement and I won't leave it. Then they threaten to kill me.” Then he said: “Barlibai, if you join the Sangathan, then your land can be saved.”

Bamniya encouraged Barlibai to call a meeting in her village to mobilise for forest rights, which she did. Gradually, she turned more and more actively towards organising and mobilising: ‘… I helped to establish the Sangathan—I organised meetings … I told [people] that “you must do your farming; this is your right—what will the forest-wallahs do?” So by acting like this, the Sangathan was made stronger.’ Supported by her husband and children, she also struggled to vindicate her land rights with the help of the AMS: ‘Fighting the case for twelve years’, she told us, ‘I myself became a lawyer. When I spoke, the lawyers could only stare at me. With the Sangathan, the interactions I had, the meetings—everywhere people knew me and that's why, even in jail, I was never afraid. The fears had gone away and I could sit in a relaxed way and talk’ (interview, November 2009).

Barlibai's account of her turn to activism and her struggle for land and forest rights illustrates how Bhil resistance in western Madhya Pradesh can be thought of, most fundamentally, as ‘acts of citizenship’ (Isin 2008)—that is, as acts that rupture those sociohistorical constellations of power that deprive subaltern groups of the right to have rights. When Barlibai—an Adivasi woman—emerged, through her participation in collective action, as a rights-bearing and—crucially!—rights-claiming citizen, she acted in defiance of everyday tyranny and the local rationality that reproduced Bhil subalternity in local state–society relations across time.

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