Nearly a quarter of India’s land area is government forest land, and uncounted hundreds of thousands of people live on this land without legal rights to it. This talk draws on work both in the Supreme Court and with landless Dalit and Adivasi forest dwellers engaged in a struggle for land rights to look at competing visions of the Constitution that have animated both the Court’s dispossession of forest dwellers and forest dweller claims to property and sovereignty. The two visions, I argue, are defined by fantasies of a non-arbitrary Constitution. The content of these non-arbitrary Constutions is radically different, however, with the elite reading proposed by the Supreme Court upholding the existing arrangement of property and subaltern readings citing the figure of the Dalit leader BR Ambedkar to call for a complete redistribution of property and political sovereignty. With the bureaucracy and legislatures delegitimized in the aftermath of the Emergency and through an ongoing discourse of corruption, political projects have become reoriented around the Constitution in defining the horizon of justice.
Anand Vaidya is an anthropologist who works on law and forest politics in India. He received his PhD in 2014 from Harvard University, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway, and will start as an assistant professor of anthropology at Reed College in January.
Valerie Foster Githinji
South Asia Program
Available Upon Request
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