In the Shadows of the State

Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India

In the Shadows of the State

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 19 illustrations, 1 map, 9 figures Published: August 2010

Author: Shah, Alpa

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Environmental Studies

In the Shadows of the State suggests that well-meaning indigenous rights and development claims and interventions may misrepresent and hurt the very people they intend to help. It is a powerful critique based on extensive ethnographic research in Jharkhand, a state in eastern India officially created in 2000. While the realization of an independent Jharkhand was the culmination of many years of local, regional, and transnational activism for the rights of the region’s culturally autonomous indigenous people, Alpa Shah argues that the activism unintentionally further marginalized the region’s poorest people. Drawing on a decade of ethnographic research in Jharkhand, she follows the everyday lives of some of the poorest villagers as they chase away protected wild elephants, try to cut down the forests they allegedly live in harmony with, maintain a healthy skepticism about the revival of the indigenous governance system, and seek to avoid the initial spread of an armed revolution of Maoist guerrillas who claim to represent them. Juxtaposing these experiences with the accounts of the village elites and the rhetoric of the urban indigenous-rights activists, Shah reveals a class dimension to the indigenous-rights movement, one easily lost in the cultural-based identity politics that the movement produces. In the Shadows of the State brings together ethnographic and theoretical analyses to show that the local use of global discourses of indigeneity often reinforces a class system that harms the poorest people.


“[A]n empirically grounded, rich and lively narrative of the multidimensionality of issues in the new Jharkhand state.” — Amit Prakash, Labour/Le Travail

“[A]n intricately written ethnography. . . . The book caters to not only an academic audience but also to a wider range of readers such as journalists, human rights and political activists, policy makers, and the general reader (p. 12). For this purpose, each chapter includes several anecdotes from the author’s field notes, which are followed by analyses for placing them in a broader context. This has helped make the author’s argument very clear throughout the book.” — Kyoko Matsukawa, Asian Anthropology

“Alpa Shah’s In the shadows of the state is both… thought provoking and… highly accessible…. Shah’s work presents a valuable contribution to discussions surrounding the relationship between rural adivasi communities and the deep sources of inequality and misrepresentation which continue to affect their lives…. [A]n important work.” — Ketan Alder, Contemporary South Asia

“It is a pleasure to read In the Shadows of the State for its delicate handling of such formidable concepts as the state, governance, indigeneity, corruption, and conservation. . . . Readers interested in these issues, within and beyond academia, stand to learn much from Alpa Shah’s book.”
— Azra Hromadzic, PoLAR

“Shah has written a powerful ethnography that challenges many assumptions about indigenous people in India and that has ramifications beyond its specificity.” — David Geary, South Asia

“Shah’s intellectual prowess displayed in this book deserves praise…. The topic of this book is very pertinent and timely.” — Ramesh Dhussa, Professional Geographer

“This work is a powerful critique of those who speak in the name of the poor Adivasis in Jharkhand but use them only as a means for advancing their own interests; whether it is the ‘developmental state’ or the indigenous rights activists or political parties. In its meticulous research, the book explores the dangers of ’culture-making’ in the name of the indigenous population. The study provides much insight for those who are interested in questions regarding the nature and functioning of the Indian state, caste system and indigenous rights activism as well for the Left movement in India.” — M. Muneer, Journal of Contemporary Asia

In the Shadows of the State is a simple, engaging, and beautifully written book that makes a significant and original contribution to the global literature on the politics and practice of indigeneity, and to the rich body of critical geographical and anthropological research on tribal life and politics in Jharkhand and eastern India. It should be required reading for all scholars and activists committed to resolving the awkward relationship between indigeneity and indigence.” — Haripriya Rangan, Journal of Asian Studies

“A brilliant ethnography…. Shah has succeeded in bringing a place, its people and their social and political relations to life. It is a pleasure to read, and an example of the possibility of skillful and expressive writing immersed in the texture of everyday life to enhance academic analysis.” — Colin McFarlane, Environment and Planning D

“[T]his is a well structured book in which the author highlights the need to pay attention to the voices that are not usually heard in the transnational and national forums which leads to their marginalization. This book presents a fine study of indigenous practices, culture and activism in Jharkhand and would be of great help to those scholars and students who really wants to understand the discourse on indigenous politics.” — Nidhi Yadav, Indian Journal of Political Science

“Shah uses eight years of field experience among the Munda in the recently independent (2000) state of Jharkhand to demonstrate the limitations of identity politics in the liberation of the rural poor and marginalized in India. . . . Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries.” — B. Tavakolian, Choice

 "A must-read for those interested in the politics of indigenous rights activism and its intersection with issues of governance and the environment." — Brian Dudley, Agriculture and Human Values

In the Shadows of the State is a fine and unusual study of indigenous politics, culture, and activism, which will be of interest to students of India as well as of the cultural politics of indigeneity elsewhere in the world. Alpa Shah provides a robust and non-sentimental ethnography of the realities and contradictions of tribal life, and a powerful critique of the practices of the state, NGOs, and the highly vocal middle-class activists who promote preservation of both natural resources and pristine tribal life.” — Thomas Blom Hansen, co-editor of States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State

In the Shadows of the State is an important, original, thoughtful, and beautifully written book. I have no doubt that it will be considered the single most important account we have of state-society relations in Jharkhand. It is also a remarkably erudite and properly critical account of the production and use of ‘indigeneity’ and ‘development’ as social constructions that can contribute to the domination of poor rural Jharkhandis. Its significance ranges far beyond India.” — Stuart Corbridge, co-author of Jharkhand: Environment, Development, Ethnicity

“Alpa Shah’s book is an engaged and exceptionally lively account of the intersection between the ‘everyday state’ and the people of one of India’s most marginalized ‘Tribal’ areas. A major contribution to the regional literature, her sometimes counterintuitive, often sobering, but always compelling analysis richly deserves the attention of anyone interested in the politics of indigeneity and its uneasy relationship with class politics and with left-wing activism.” — Jonathan Parry, London School of Economics

“Presenting a sophisticated analysis of original empirical material based on sensitive long-term ethnographic fieldwork, Alpa Shah directly challenges existing frameworks in and beyond academic anthropology. She provides important new perspectives on indigenous governance, development, the anthropology of the state, corruption and local democracy, the politics of conservation, and environmental and Maoist movements. In the Shadows of the State demonstrates the value of critical ethnography; it is likely to be read as an exemplar.” — David Mosse, author of Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alpa Shah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue 1

1. The Dark Side of Indigeneity 9

2. Not Just Ghosts: Democracy as Sacral Polity 36

3. Shadowy Practices: Development as Corruption 66

4. Dangerous Silhouettes: Elephants, Sacrifice, and Alcohol 99

5. Night Escape: Eco-incarceration, Purity, and Sex 130

6. The Terror Within: Revolution against the State? 162

Epilogue: Arcadian Spaces beyond the Shadows of the State 184

Glossary of Terms 191

Notes 193

Bibliography 237

Index 265
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4765-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4744-6
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