Theses Master's

Collective Identity and its Impact on Indian Farmer Movements

Edwin, Renita

India’s rural populations remain routinely marginalized in national policy decisions. The economic concerns of farming communities are often ignored by policy makers, with a complete lack of attention paid to systemic failures and decades of ill-governance. Perhaps the biggest manifestation of this is the country’s farmer suicide epidemic, which has been ongoing since the 1990s, having taken more than 300,000 lives. The prolonged and pervasive nature of the crisis necessitates an analysis of both the structural constraints impacting Indian agriculture as well as civil society’s response. This is especially significant considering that India is often referred to as the “world’s largest democracy.” A close analysis of today’s farmer movements, however, suggest that they are periodically inactive and largely ineffective in impacting structural change. Why? A viable explanation for this lies in the application of social movement theoretical perspectives, which point to the value of culture and identity in shaping movements. It is argued that culture, in conjunction with capacity and socio-political capital, becomes an agency of reform when leveraged to induce a sense of “collective identity” amongst participants. The value of such a hypothesis is evidenced by Indian farming communities, whereby until the 1990s, they existed as some of the most important non-parliamentary political forces across multiple states. By applying existing these theories to both historical and present-day movements within the Maharashtrian district of Wardha, the text proposes that today’s farmers stand divided, as conflicting characteristics (be it class, caste or religion) take precedence over a singular farmer identity, thereby hindering collective action and, in the process, placing limits on the politics of farmer empowerment. In doing so, it deepens understandings of how culture, collective identity and emotion cultivate political opportunities, facilitate socio-economic and political agency and ultimately lead to structural change within communities.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Winkler, Inga T.
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2018