ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Kinship capitalism and performative sovereignty: New land markets and the refashioning of Gujjar ‘criminal’ identity in Gurgaon


Srivastava Sanjay - SOAS University of London, Anthropology and Sociology, London, United Kingdom


11 – Rethinking governmentality: Sovereign agency beyond the state in South Asia


 Over the past three decades, the largely rural district of Gurgaon (Haryana) has witnessed intense urbanisation and land monetisation. The local Gujjar community is the most recent beneficiary of the new market in land. Gujjars are a ‘Denotified Tribe’. That is, their names have been taken off the list of ‘Criminal Castes and Tribes’ promulgated during the colonial era. Seeking integration into Gurgaon’s urban modernity, the ‘stigma’ of being an ex-criminal tribe and how to overcome it is, however, a frequent point of discussion. Deeply felt among a community that has recently transformed into ‘land-sale millionaires’ from a relatively disadvantaged position, the stigma is frequently expressed as the incapacity for self-definition, and stereotyping by the state. Strategies of ‘recuperation’ of sovereignty over Gujjar identity do not, however, involve eschewing it but, rather, its re-inscription in Gurgaon’s urban modernity. The most significant agent for this is the Gujjar Mahasabha (association) which utilises new land wealth towards inscribing ‘Gujjarness’ into the urban landscape. These include the refashioning of domestic spaces and weddings; road signs that list Gujjars in ‘important’ government positions; and a recently inaugurated Gujjar Mahotsav (festival) that showcases Gujjar culture. I explore the ways in which the self-perception of ‘criminality’ is sought to be overcome through refashioning caste and personal sovereignty via processes of capital and urbanism.