Between Global Flows and Local Dams: Indigenousness, Locality, and the Transnational Sphere in Jharkhand, India



A critical examination of the transnational discourse of indigeneity in the context of adivasi or indigenous peoples' political struggles in India contrasts two Indian indigenous political movements: the “transnational” imaginary of the Indian Council for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which is the central organization representing India's indigenous peoples at the United Nations, and the “local” imaginary of the Koel-Karo movement, one of several adivasi movements against displacement that mark the Indian political landscape today. Given that these transnational and very local imaginaries both work in relation to different domains of governmentality, I question why a transnational governmentality involving indigenous peoples produces a static and essentialized discourse of indigeneity that inadvertently undermines local initiatives like Koel-Karo. Rural adivasi populations redeploy elements of colonial and nation-state governmentality forged in relation to them in ways that demonstrate a remarkable flexibility in the imagination of indigeneity. As the neoliberal regime in India has, with a terrifying intensity, contributed to the displacement of adivasis, the question of indigeneity as adivasi identity has to address these different histories of governmentality, the modalities of the politics they have precipitated, and other ways of articulating “local” adivasi movements with transnational alliances. This examination of indigeneity in India concludes by problematizing some of the ways in which contemporary academic discourse has interpreted “governmentality” in relation to subaltern movements.