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School of Business and Management

CLaSP & Journal of Agrarian Change Seminar: Plantation Crisis: Ruptures of Dalit Life in the Indian Tea Belt

When: Thursday, November 16, 2023, 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Where: Peter Landin Building, PL 301

Speaker: Jayaseelan Raj

What does the collapse of India’s tea industry mean for Dalit workers who have lived, worked and died on the plantations since the colonial era? Plantation Crisis offers a complex understanding of how processes of social and political alienation unfold in moments of economic rupture. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Peermade and Munnar tea belts, Jayaseelan Raj – himself a product of the plantation system – offers a unique and richly detailed analysis of the profound, multi-dimensional sense of crisis felt by those who are at the bottom of global plantation capitalism and caste hierarchy.

Tea production in India accounts for 25 per cent of global output. The colonial era planation system – and its two million strong workforce – has, since the mid-1990s, faced a series of ruptures due to neoliberal economic globalisation. In the South Indian state of Kerala, otherwise known for its labour-centric development initiatives, the Tamil speaking Dalit workforce, whose ancestors were brought to the plantations in the 19th century, are at the forefront of this crisis, which has profound impacts on their social identity and economic wellbeing. Out of the colonial history of racial capitalism and indentured migration, Plantation Crisis opens our eyes to the collapse of the plantation system and the rupturing of Dalit lives in India's tea belt.

Jayaseelan Raj is a senior lecturer in Anthropology and International Development. Jay holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Bergen, Norway and was a postdoctoral research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was recently awarded the prestigious New India Foundation Fellowship to write a book on Dalits and State in Kerala. He is also the co-author of the book, Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India (Pluto Press 2017 and OUP 2018). 

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