Rethinking Postcolonial Democracy: An Examination of the Politics of Lower-Caste Empowerment in North India



ABSTRACT  With this article, I seek to contribute to an anthropological understanding of democracy through an examination of the politics of lower-caste empowerment in Bihar, a populous state in north India. I argue that democracy has to be examined within the context of historical processes that have shaped the larger political economy within which democratic practice unfolds, revealing the specificities of India's postcolonial democracy. Caste as political identity extends democratic practice into the relations of everyday life, challenging routine forms of violence and inequality and collapsing any pretense to a separate “political sphere.” An explicitly lower-caste politics generated political subjectivities based on a notion of popular sovereignty as rule by the lower-caste majority, and I show the ways in which this disruptive politics transformed village life. This underscores that Bihar represents an “alternate democracy” but also that we need alternate frameworks for understanding the multifarious experience of democracy today.