Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Neoliberalism, India Shining, Culture Redefined...

The narrative of "Shining India" is a fairly straightforward narrative. It is a story of growth and development, a story of high rises, start ups, call centers, IT hubs, and tremendous development accomplished through trade liberalization.

Development is storied in the form of infrastructures, roads, hopitals for NRIs, and the multiplexes that are continually being targeted at the NRIs living abroad (look for instance at the most recent narratives of development being articulated in the context of Gujarat). India has progressed so much that going back to India is no longer a dream, but rather a reality, where you can combine the lifestyle of neoliberal capitalism with the spices of the local culture, filled with the colors, tastes, and thrills of the spaces NRIs nostalgically think of as home. For the NRI, it is once again an opportunity to re-invent one's home that is now devoid of the problems of poor infrastructure that once plagued India.

It is precisely however in this very India of the seven-eight figure salaries, high rise complexes, and fast-paced progress, that a counter-narrative plays out. The plot of this counter-narrative builds on the stories of inaccess, poverty, and social injustices that are perpetrated at the intersections of classism, casteism, gendered oppression, etc. For example, the shining example of Gujarat is punctuated by the stories of large scale farmer suicides in the same state. The question that these counter-narratives raise then are questions about meanings of terms such as "development" and "progress." Would one of the fastest developing states of India allow for its farmers to fall so deeply into poverty that suicide seems like the only meaningful option in such farming communities? How would the pictures of development portrayed in stories of "Shining Gujarat" engage with the narratives of these farmers and their families, who have been pushed to suicide precisely because of these neoliberal reforms?

In some ways, even as I raise these question, I am deeply aware of what the proponents of neoliberal India would point out: that I am deeply out of touch with reality in India and that there are no basis for arguments about injustices in India today (for them, and perhaps rightly so, things such as farmer suicides don't happen in the India they live in). They would tell me that in India, the poor are better off than they were a decade back. And yet, the stories of the poor, the stories I gather from my fieldwork over the last decade, the conversations with those who have been dispossed precisely because of the neoliberal policies, continue to stare back at this neoliberal narrative.

So, for my friends who are so completely taken aback by the progress their nation state has made: How would neoliberal India respond to the stories of oppressions narrated by its farmers, indigenous communities, and workers?

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