Witches, Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India: Tempest in a Teapot

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9780739149942: Witches, Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India: Tempest in a Teapot

Witches, Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India: Tempest in Teapot is a unique book that brings together a holistic theoretical approach on the subject of witchcraft accusations, specifically those taking place inside a tea workers' community in India. Using a combination of in-depth and extensive qualitative methods, and drawing on sociological, anthropological, and historical perspectives, Chaudhuri explores how adivasi (tribal) migrant workers use witchcraft accusations to deal with worker-management conflict.

Chaudhuri argues that witchcraft accusations can be interpreted as a periodic reaction of the adivasi worker community against their oppression by the plantation management. The typical avenues of social protest are often unavailable to marginalized workers due to lack of organizational and political representation and resources. As a result, the dain (witch) becomes a scapegoat for the malice of the plantation economy. Within this discourse, witch hunts can be seen not as exotic and primitive rituals of a backward community, but rather as a powerful protest by a community against its oppressors. The book attempts to understand the complex network of relationships—ties of friendship, family, politics, and gender—that provide the necessary legitimacy for the witch hunt to take place. In most cases examined here, seemingly petty conflicts within the villagers often escalate to a hunt. At the height of the conflict, the exploitative relationship between the plantation management and the adivasi migrant workers often gets hidden. The book demonstrates how witchcraft accusations should be interpreted within this backdrop of labor-planters relationship, characterized by rigidity of power, patronage, and social distance.

Witches, Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India should appeal to criminologists, sociologists, anthropologists, labor historians, gender scholars, labor migration scholars, witch hunt and witchcraft accusation global scholars, adivasi scholars, South Asian scholars, and anyone interested in India’s tribes, witchcraft accusations, gender in a global world, labor conflict, and Indian tea plantations.

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About the Author:

Soma Chaudhuri is assistant professor of Sociology and School of Criminal Justice, at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on violence, social movements, gender and witch hunts. She is currently interested in understanding how women's empowerment works at the grassroots and its manifestation through strategies of negotiation in cases of domestic violence in Gujarat, India. 

Review:

Chaudhuri explores an important and intriguing phenomenon witch naming and hunting in a small, marginalized community in West Bengal, India. The manuscript is absolutely fascinating, thick in cultural information, and advances knowledge about indigenous communities of India. The uniqueness of the book is its analysis of witch-hunts and murders as protest of the tribal laborers against the oppression of the tea garden owners and managers. The author uses a Marxist lens to examine a rather brutal demonstration of labor grievances. (Shamita Das Dasgupta, New York University)

Chaudhuri's book is an incredibly ambitious study of attacks on women as witches. She identifies features of attacks that are both shared and unique to the region studied, and their relation to theories explaining the early modern witch hunts in Europe and American colonies. Not only is the narrative about such attacks informative, but she develops new classifications that add to our understanding of witch attacks. Her book should set the stage for future research and guide the development of new ideas about witch attacks in developing countries (Gary JensenVanderbilt University)

Chaudhuri's book draws on rich qualitative data to explain how the adivasi migrant workers manage conflicts with managers by... inferring meanings about witchcraft accusations...The amazing narratives of the tea plantation workers are woven into the broader arguments made. This book is a must read for scholars interested in gender and social movements, South Asia studies and for scholars pursuing scholarship on resistance by indigenous groups (Mangala Subramaniam, Purdue University)

What marks this book is its deft use of the sociological imagination that combines the best of a historical perspective with the anthropological details of the everyday; the macro politics of the state; and easy familiarity with studies on labour, gender and indigenous people. The book manages to carry off the difficult task of conveying the subjectivities of a group rendered subservient by long years of brutal coercion within which the hapless woman is accused of being a witch. A must read for those  interested in gender, labour and tribe.  Maitrayee Chaudhuri, Jawaharhal Nehru University

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