, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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Agrarian Change, Landlessness and Multi-axial Deprivation: The Case of the Paniyas in Kerala, India
Sudheesh Ramapurath Chemmencheri

Last modified: 2018-12-14


This paper is an ethnographic exploration of the livelihood negotiations of the landless Paniya Adivasi (indigenous) community in Kerala, India. Through this research, I attempt to open a window into the workings of the growth of India’s emerging economy at the rural grassroots. The study finds that landlessness and agrarian change are pushing the Paniyas into a state of deprivation from multiple axes. While work in paddy farming is fast disappearing, they are also being replaced from two other sectors where they sought livelihood – construction and capitalist ginger farming – by other labour communities demanding cheaper wages. Though the Paniyas sought cultivable land from the state to escape this precarity, it is uncertain how state-redistributed land can improve their living conditions in the wake of disappearing agriculture and falling state support for farming. Aralam, a large land redistribution project, has been witnessing the Paniyas abandoning redistributed land. While social movements representing the Adivasis have consistently demanded cultivable land to make peasants of landless Adivasis as a solution to their poverty, the uncertainty surrounding agriculture, given the agrarian change in Kerala’s service-and-remittance driven economy, seems not to be factored into their narratives. The state government treats Adivasi landlessness as a residual issue that can be solved through the distribution of an acre of land to each landless household. I explore what this form of land redistribution means in the times of agrarian changes. This multi-axial nature of marginalisations, triggered by landlessness and agrarian change, continue even as the overall economy reports high “growth”. Theoretically, the paper tries to understand how land is connected to the agrarian question of labour, given Henry Bernstein’s argument that the agrarian question of capital in emerging economies has been bypassed and that the focus should now be on labour.  Through my field observations, I drive home the point that the sub-national level is important for an analysis of the actual workings of an “emerging economy” and that everyday negotiations of marginalised people can provide a potent critique of macro-level growth patterns.

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