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Contrarian lives: Christians and contemporary protest in Jharkhand

Aaron, Sushil J. (2005) Contrarian lives: Christians and contemporary protest in Jharkhand. Working Paper (18). Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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The modern history of the Jharkhand region in India can be understood as a tale of incomplete pacification of ‘tribal’ communities by both the colonial and postcolonial regimes. Starting with the introduction of alien land tenure laws by the British, the increasing reach of inimical political and commercial interests, the tapping of huge mineral reserves as part of India’s development march have adversely affected adivasi communities through land alienation, displacement and declining access to common property resources. Adivasis have responded through issue-based people’s movements in various areas that oppose, for instance, reservoir dams, mining activity or forestry initiatives. Christians have historically played a leading role in the clamour for tribal autonomy even if they account for only four percent of the population. This paper attempts to chart what the intensely socialized generation of Christian political activists starting in the 1930s has transmuted into and how activists and the organised church respond to changed circumstances. Based on field visits to Ranchi district, plus a case study of the Koel Karo agitation, this study assesses the role of Christian social movement activists – the nature and efficacy of their involvement, their equation with mainline churches and their relationship with non-Christian adivasi activists. It argues that a sizeable Christian institutional presence creates the context for politicising activists and significantly sustains the discourse of subordination that undergirds tribal politics in the state. For these activists, attachment to land privileges adivasi identity over notions of religious belonging which, in turn, is arguably linked to distinct legacies of conversion. Christians are active in a range of informal protest associations that drive popular agitations and are involved in securing adivasi rights in the newly-formed state. For most part Christian activists are not driven by religious faith nor sponsored by foreign missionary groups and religious differences have not notably undermined collaboration with non-Christian adivasis. The church leadership is sympathetic to social movements overall but conservative cultural stances of the clergy inhibit collaborative scope. Understanding the dynamics of Christian social activism is, in part, significant owing to impending (mis)representations of social movements in a state marked by a stalemate between adivasi interests and the government’s industrialising agenda amid the competing pressures of ‘investor confidence’, Hindu nationalism and Maoist insurgency.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2007 Sushil J. Aaron
Divisions: Asia Centre
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2009 14:30
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 23:01

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