AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 653

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Session 653: States of Development? Changing Policy Regimes and Subjectivities in South Asia

Organizer: Karen M. McNamara, Syracuse University, USA

Chair: Sanjukta Mukherjee, DePaul University, USA

Discussant: Rupal Oza, City University of New York, Hunter College, USA

This panel explores the changing nature of the State and its developmental visions in South Asia. We examine the material and discursive ways in which state policies and practices are enacted and embedded in everyday life. The papers in this session particularly engage the manner in which identity-based subjectivities, like class, caste, gender, and ethnicity, are implicated in the political economic transformations in the region. In the process of doing this, we raise questions about the contradictory nature of development as propagated by the state and experienced by people in different spaces. This interdisciplinary panel allows us to compare and contrast the ideologies and practices of states across trans/national and historical contexts of contemporary South Asia. In her paper on Bangladesh, Karen McNamara looks at the impact of neoliberal state policies on the embodied health of garment workers. Ishan Ashutosh and Sanjukta Mukherjee both focus on the Indian middle class. Mukherjee exposes how the Indian IT boom rests on the changing relationship of the Indian state with the “new” middle class, particularly women. Ashutosh examines how the Indian state has increasingly tethered its once distanced diaspora through discourses on national belonging and return. In his paper on cross border connections in India and Bangladesh, Reece Jones highlights both the increasing securitization of border spaces and everyday acts of refusal that contest the sovereign authority of the states. All the presenters provide a rich critical analysis based on extensive empirical research.

The State of Suffering: Embodied Health of Women Garment Workers in Bangladesh
Karen M. McNamara, Syracuse University, USA

Since the liberalization of the economy in the 1980's, the Bangladeshi state has created special economic processing zones and other incentives to encourage the steady increase of the global export-oriented garment sector. The garment industry in Bangladesh is also the largest industrial employer of women, who are mainly recruited for the more labor-intensive and lower-paying jobs. This paper examines how health is changing under these new regimes of production, trade and neoliberal state policy. I analyze health policy and illness narratives of patients who seek health care at a government clinic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most of these patients are women who migrated to the capital city of Dhaka from rural areas in order to work in one of the numerous garment factories. Although the state requires garment factories to have resident medical officers, most of the women who come to the clinic do not seek help from these officers. The “developmental” thinking of the state reveals its contradictory nature because of the inequality of access to health care in Bangladesh, where not all can afford the same medicines, private hospitals and clinics. The importance of locality, work schedules, and financial constraints play a role in the access that women have to this clinic. This paper explores not only how the Bangladeshi state influences conditions of work and health, but also how women talk about their work in relation to their embodied health.

The State @ Work: Middle-Class Women and India’s IT Boom
Sanjukta Mukherjee, DePaul University, USA

Over the last decade the IT industry has become emblematic of India’s growing economic power and integration with the global market. The main symbol of India’s success is embodied in the increasing visibility of middle class professional women in the hi-tech workspaces. In order to attract and sustain women’s employment in this sector, the Indian State has proactively made specific policy amendments (particularly around labor laws) and introduced new incentives (around tax relief, home-working, telecommuting, etc) to suit the demands of its most profitable export driven service sector. This refutes popular claims that the Indian IT boom is purely an entrepreneurial enterprise characterized by limited state involvement. But, what does the relationship between middle class professional women (and men), the beneficiaries and the backbone of the new economy, and the Indian State tell us about the particular form state developmental strategies take within specific social contexts? Drawing upon four decades of IT policy analysis and interviews with bureaucrats and industry leaders in Bangalore and Delhi, this paper demonstrates how gendered constructions of women’s work have been crucial for the success of the IT industry. Conversely, it also reflects upon how the identities of the knowledge workers i.e. the “new” middle class professional women, have been partially shaped through the new relationships with the State and its developmental visions of a global India. Such analysis contributes to understanding the manner in which contemporary states of the global south negotiate local gender and class regimes in the process of capital accumulation.

Transnational Belonging: Indian Neoliberalism and Diasporic Nationalisms in Canada and the United States
Ishan Ashutosh, Ohio State University, USA

This paper examines the changing relationship between the Indian state and the Indian diaspora in Canada and the United States from the early 1990s. Through ethnographic research in both the United States and Canada, I focus on changing notions of citizenship and national membership that extend beyond state territory. Though the diaspora may act as the “mirror of modern India”, the Indian state has largely viewed the diaspora through a marked ambivalence, a connection that undermined Indian state projects of nationalism. In the past twenty years, however, the Indian state has increasingly attempted to transform the dispersed Indian diaspora, particularly in North America, as a central feature of neoliberal India. I argue that the Indian diaspora in the United States and Canada has been realigned with the Indian state. This realignment, concentrated on the diasporic elite and middle class, has produced new notions of belonging and membership. Diasporic membership to the Indian state is institutionalized in Indian citizenship regimes and the Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs. Such policies reflect a shift in post-colonial India from the “non-aligned to non-resident”. These institutional shifts represent further changes in conceptions of India as homeland and the new possibility of return for the Indian diaspora. This paper, therefore, explores the changing time-space of the Indian nation-state and diaspora through the policies of the Indian government and the experiences and practices of the Indian diaspora that are aligned with state projects in India.

Spaces of Refusal: Rethinking Resistance at the Border
Reece Jones, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This paper investigates local actions that transgress, subvert, and ignore the imposition of sovereign authority at the borders of sovereign states. It begins by describing the creation and gradual securitization of the 4096 km border between India and Bangladesh, which has culminated in the construction of roads, floodlights, and fences along the majority of the previously open and lightly guarded border. Then, by drawing on interviews with borderland residents, this paper analyzes the ways that people interact with, talk about, and cross the border in their daily lives. I argue that the motives and consequences of these cross-border connections are not precisely captured by the literature on dominance-resistance in power relations, which understands most actions as political resistance in a broad milieu of power. As an alternative, I propose spaces of refusal as a way to conceptualize a range of activities that are not overt political resistance but nevertheless represent a refusal to abide by the binary enframing of state territorial and identity categories.