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Impact Of Marginalization

Hayden S. Kantor

By A.R. Vasavi
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2012, PP. 229, Rs. 350.00


Why, in a period of sustained national economic growth, have Indian agriculturalists been committing suicide in such larger numbers? And what might these acts signify with respect to the challenges facing rural India at this moment? These are some of the pressing questions A.R. Vasavi’s Shadow Space seeks to answer. Through six closely related essays, each of which takes up a different aspect of this crisis, Vasavi contends that the suicides express the marginalization of vulnerable agriculturalists within a political economy that has neglected their welfare. In laying out this argument, Vasavi has produced a work that is both meticulously researched and passionately argued—one that is indispensable for understanding the momentous shifts currently underway in Indian agriculture.   Vasavi’s exploration of this topic builds on themes present in her first book, Harbingers of Rain (1999), and her ongoing field research with rural communities in a variety of locations. Although trained as a social anthropologist, she recognizes at the outset of the book the limits of using traditional ethnographic methods to grasp the scale of this distress. As a result, Vasavi deftly surveys the existing scholarly research on rural suicides, synthesizing these studies together into a coherent narrative about a broadly experienced rural plight. By combining these references with exegeses of official reports, news media dispatches, first-hand materials, and her own fieldwork, Vasavi presents a compelling portrait of the struggles many agriculturalists face. She deploys the term ‘agriculturalist’ to reflect a spectrum of food-producing activities, encompassing both subsistence farming and market-oriented production, at a range of class positions, thus moving beyond the strictures of village and agrarian studies approaches.   Vasavi suggests that suicides by agriculturalists are frequently considered unsightly aberrations against narratives of a booming and globalizing Indian nation. Reports of suicides are ‘increasingly consigned to a shadow space’ to the extent that they ‘do not become the bases for questioning economic policies, the programmes of development, and the practices of administration’ (p. 19). Through a comprehensive account detailing the presence of agriculturalist suicides in different locations over time, Vasavi demonstrates how economic and non-economic factors have combined to create the conditions for these acts. In contrast to research focused on a single state or region, Shadow Space offers an all-India breadth. She observes that unlike earlier agrarian crises, no mass protest movement has emerged; the dominant response to this crisis has not been rebellion or riots but the silent ...

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