Land struggles are witnessing a resurgence in many parts of the world. These movements draw, in part, from the colonial histories in the global south (for instance, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement [MST] in Brazil) and from the growing agrarian unrest against neoliberal policies in food and agriculture disenfranchising peasants (agitations against land grab for commercial farming in parts of Africa). India, on the other hand, has had a distinct land problem. Historically, a certain class of people in India i.e., Dalits, was customarily not allowed to hold land because of their “untouchable” caste status. This situation has remained largely unchanged even after independence. In this presentation, I will discuss Dr BR Ambedkar’s perspective of land and agrarian problems in India that foregrounds dignity and freedom and, in many ways, goes beyond the conventional boundaries of material versus ideological, social versus political. This, I propose, is significant because Indian and global researchers have analysed rural development largely from Marxist, (neo) populist, or neo-classical perspectives. The presentation will also briefly comment on other related issues of common property resources and their utilisation in the Indian context, and various meanings of land, as reflected in various mobilisations for land rights in the country.
Dr. Awanish Kumar is a British Academy Newton International Fellow at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. He is also Consulting Editor (Book Reviews), Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai and Visiting Faculty, School of Development, Azim Premji University. Dr Kumar holds a PhD in Development Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India. His academic background and research work is on political economy of development, with a focus on caste, agrarian change, social policy, and social movements. He specialises in village studies and has conducted intensive fieldwork in the rural areas of Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand.