ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Generating ‘Critical Savarna Studies’ through Adivasi Studies


R.C. Sudheesh - Azim Premji University, School of Development, Bangalore, India


38 – Adivasis and Adivasi Studies


 Historical and contemporary dispossession of Adivasis from land and forests has produced a rich scholarship that rightly exposes violence by the state and the savarnas. However, more could be said on the tactics used by the savarnas to maintain their privileges in the market economy, which makes Adivasi dispossession a means to the end. This paper argues that Adivasi studies can open up several constructive possibilities for the conception of a ‘critical savarna studies’ that unpacks savarna privilege. Such an effort would in turn nourish Adivasi studies by contributing to its assertion as a generative field of inquiry, turning the gaze to the privileged, helping it become wary of the romanticisation and homogenisation of the disparate Adivasi experiences in India, and opening up one possible avenue to feed into global discussions on privilege versus marginalisation. The paper draws on 14 months (and continuing) ethnographic engagement with the marginalisation of the landless Paniya community in Kerala. In particular, this paper follows their employment in speculative cash crop farming undertaken by Kerala’s upper-caste Syrian Christian farmers in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Delving into the disciplining tactics used by the capitalist savarna entrepreneurs, particularly the replacement of the Paniyas with a Scheduled Caste community of labourers, the paper explores how Adivasi studies can gestate a much-needed conversation on critical savarna studies.