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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Trajectories of Legal Knowledge: India’s Forest Rights Act and translations between caste and class’ , 22nd December, 2014.


‘Trajectories of Legal Knowledge: India’s Forest Rights Act and translations between caste and class’


Dr. Anand Vaidya,
Harvard University,


This paper follows the trajectories through which India’s 2006 Forest Rights Act arrived in two neighboring villages in a North Indian forest. The law was brought to the area by two different organizations, each with a distinct political history and constituency, and the two organizations read the Forest Rights Act to have different and even contradictory meanings. Through an analysis of these re-readings, the speaker locates the contests over the meaning of the Forest Rights Act within a longer history of Dalit liberatory struggles to transform the relationship between caste categories and property relations. Far from caste being, as some have claimed, an obstacle to a class-based politics, the speaker argues that in Indian states whose recent political history has been defined by caste-based conflicts over land, caste has emerged as the idiom through which property relations are contested and class idioms have, in turn, become idioms through which caste-based relations are contested. The Forest Rights Act, which reassigns property relations on the basis of legal caste categories, has been drawn on as a powerful tool to translate between caste and class, and in the process the meanings of both the law and caste itself have been transformed.


Dr. Anand Vaidya is the South Asian Studies Postdoctoral Fellow in the South Asia Institute at Harvard University, USA. He studies environmental politics and social movements in India. Dr. Vaidya's dissertation is an ethnographic and historical study of India’s Forest Rights Act, a landmark 2006 law that recognizes the land rights of the country’s many landless forest dwellers. Studying the law together with the movements that were crucial in pushing for it—and which continue to be central in implementing it—he seeks to understand the many, and often contradictory, political projects that the law has enabled in relation to the political struggles that produced it. By studying contests over forested land on the terrain of a legal text, he seeks to bridge political ecology, political economy, and linguistic anthropology.

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