Inebriety and Indigeneity: the Moral Governance of Adivasis and Alcohol in Jharkhand, India
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This dissertation is an investigation of alcohol and indigeneity in India. Based on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the state of Jharkhand, I aim to describe the complex and contradictory roles that alcohol plays in the lives of people variously referred to adivasis, tribals, or Scheduled Tribes. By taking a closer look at the presence of alcohol in various registers of adivasi lives (economy, religion, social relations) as well as by studying the ways alcohol is implicated in the constitution of adivasis as a distinct category of governmental subjects, I hope to provide a nuanced and multilayered account of the relationships between adivasis and alcohol. I will thereby conceptualize these relationships in terms of obligations, which will allow me to approach them without the constraints of determination or causality inherent in concepts like addiction and/or alcoholism, and to circumvent the notion of compulsion implied in ideas about adivasis as either culturally or genetically predisposed to drinking. In the chapters that follow, I will first discuss how the criterion of alcohol consumption is implicated, discursively, in the constitution of adivasis as a separate population, and a distinct subject category through governmental procedures of knowledge formation and administration. I will then describe the ways alcohol is present, as a substance, as a commodity, and as an intoxicant, in two distinct landscapes of Jharkhand: an (unauthorized) settlement of migrant laborers adjacent to a massive industrial enterprise at the outskirts of the state capital Ranchi, and a rural environment inhabited by subsistence farmers, who had, for almost three decades until shortly before I began my fieldwork, resisted against a planned, massive hydro-electric dam. I will furthermore investigate the regulation of alcohol, and show how regulatory mechanisms approach tribal drinking as a problem sui generis, thereby distinguishing between populations capable of responsible drinking, and others (i.e., adivasis) that are not. And I will finally discuss the role of alcohol in relations between adivasis, as well as in their relations to spirits, deities, and ancestors, and approach the relationships between adivasis and alcohol as a problem of moral governance and ethical self-making.