Colonial Legacies, Law and Discourses of Inequalities. An Analysis of Poverty Alleviation

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 2:30 PM
Room: 503
Oral Presentation
Sujata PATEL , University of Hyderabad, India
The paper uses the example of a revolutionary poverty alleviation programme (which now is given legitimacy as a law) to understand and assess the discourses that structure inequalities in India. The focus is on a law called National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which provides as a right, employment to one member of a poor household for 100 days of a year.  

On the basis of case studies, this paper argues this discourse does not have a language to comprehend the specific economic and cultural forms and processes that organize inequalities in India at three levels. First, the attention of this Act is on objective quantifiable attributes of inequalities and wealth disparities such as poverty line, income and food consumption, an understanding which it inherits from 19th century colonial liberal discourses. It thus cannot recognise the fact that the poor work and labour in economies that combine and exchange low value labour goods and services which are rarely quantifiable in terms of the rational economic language created by contemporary capitalist discourse. Second, this colonial legacy has further freezed a range of differentiated cultural practices of domination and subordination that organise inequalities into a few standard Orientalist categories. We argue that not only are these practices varied but they range from stigma, discrimination, intolerance, prejudice and hatred. These may manifest as individual discrimination but are moored in group based representations of domination which are reconstituted from colonial classificatory systems. The Act has little comprehensions of these differentiations and cultural practices as these remain invisible and thus unquantifiable. Third, these representations are unevenly organised across localities and regions defining the nation state creating a complex pattern of exclusionary intersections that manifest differentially in varied economic and social contexts of the territory. These cases help to rethink and understand the theory of inequalities.