“Behind the Indian Boom: Inequality and Resistance at the heart of economic growth” is an exhibition curated by Simon Chambers and Alpa Shah.[i] The exhibition draws on research undertaken across India as part of an ESRC- and ERC-funded Programme of Research on Inequality and Poverty based in the Department of Anthropology at LSE led by Alpa Shah and Jens Lerche.[ii] The exhibition also includes contributions from a number of scholars, journalists, and activists.
Reporting from an ongoing fieldwork in Hyderabad, India, the central topic of this piece is the ways in which the vegetarian and the nonvegetarian are understood, practiced, and contested in contemporary India. I argue that “vegetarianism,” especially when seen to be inseparable from Hinduism and the caste system, can fruitfully be unpacked when explored empirically vis-à-vis the nonvegetarian. What is more, I show that context matters when exploring the vegetarian and nonvegetarian in the interfaces between state/politics, markets, and consumers in Hyderabad. My preliminary findings suggest that the relationship between the vegetarian and nonvegetarian is being redefined in contemporary India: the long-held idea that the more individuals and social groups follow a vegetarian lifestyle the higher social status they enjoy is breaking down. What is more, vegetarianism and meat-eating are increasingly individual lifestyle choices rather than determined by religious orthodoxy.
The conference “The Future of the Rural World? Africa and Asia” was hosted by SOAS, University of London during October 2015. The event marked the end of a major project funded by the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) on “restudying” village India. It also coincided with the launch of an exhibition and film installations at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, which emerged from the same project. At the conference, Peter Ho, Katy Gardner, and Henrietta Moore spoke provocatively on rural futures in China, Bangladesh, and East Africa.
Karnatic music, or South Indian classical music, is understood as “religious” music, deemed to be “divinely inspired,” and performers are seen as embodying the divine. Because of its association with “religion,” Karnatic music is generally considered a shared traditional knowledge that has historically been bequeathed from one generation to another through oral teaching. However, at the same time, Karnatic music also has a complex history with capitalism, having been constructed by bourgeois-nationalist elites in the early twentieth century from traditions that formed an inseparable part of the operation of temples and courts. This history has recently become further complicated. Some contemporary Karnatic musicians, while adhering to the beliefs of the “religious” and “divine” nature of the tradition and indeed the creativity of musicians therein, now raise concerns about protecting individual creativity and performances—specifically against unauthorized recordings of performances in concert halls and the availability of such recordings on the Internet (Paitandy 2011).
The Indian music industry of the early 2000s was extremely volatile, as the overproduction of new recordings and ready availability of pirated material led to a decline in overall sales and waning profitability for the physical circulation of recorded music. Indian music retailers had to navigate a complex social and business environment in which their customers could shop for music in a bewildering array of successful retail outlets, ranging from street hawkers to family-owned shops to large, organized chain stores, to mobile phone providers.
A number of liberal scholars of India, ranging from Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze to James Manor, all broadly view democracy as the solution to a variety of social evils including poverty, inequality, corruption, crime, and even violent conflict. They all acknowledge that Indian democracy is at times a messy affair, but they share a common faith in its self-correcting potential. As they see it, democracy has fostered a more assertive citizenry that no longer accepts traditional hierarchies and that is less tolerant of abuses of power.
Raju and His Friends was released almost exactly a quarter of a century ago, and revisiting it now at the invitation of the FocaalBlog editor is something of a trip in a time machine for me. As I discuss below, ethnographic film and anthropological theory have moved on considerably since then. The question, therefore, is whether the film still has relevance to students and fellow academics today.