Reviews

‘The Marginalized Self: Tales of Resistance of a Community’ review: On the periphery of change

Can a solitary heroic deed by one among an entire community uplift it from its century-old demeaning tag as rat-eaters? Could conversion of the culture of pig-rearing into a thriving business move the marginalised into the centre of society? Has political representation in recent times helped a community lift itself out of the hierarchical social construct? Dasrath Manjhi’s landmark efforts in cutting through the hillock with a mere borer and a hammer; Babu Majhi’s success with conversion of pig-rearing tradition into a roaring business; and, Jitan Manjhi’s drawing political capital in a caste-dominated politics — did they help correct the stigmatised image of Musahars?

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At the crossroads

The Musahars have a sizeable population in Bihar, and limited numbers in the neighbouring states of Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Five chapters deal with the lived realities of Musahars who find themselves at the crossroads of human development, marred as much by the denial of development as their own culture of resistance to the process of enforced change.

Counting them as one among many of its unintended victims, The Marginalized Self offers a well-reasoned critique on the project of development that contributes to the phenomenon of underdevelopment leading to further marginalisation of the excluded. It is in this context that Dasrath Manjhi, the mountain man, had exhorted his fellow community members to take cognisance of their own underdevelopment in getting beyond income poverty in understanding social exclusion as the cause for deprivation. ‘Change should necessarily respect the ethos of the community, and create enabling conditions where they have the freedom of choice.’

Contemporary relevance

What gives purpose to the five standalone articles is an attempt to view development from a cultural lens. The slender volume may have been an outcome of a research project conducted over a decade ago, but the insights and observations have not lost out on their contemporary relevance. The Marginalized Self offers an engaging multi-layered narrative, which questions the top down prescription of development. With a deep dive into myths, beliefs and practices of the Musahars, the writers suggest the need for producing a bottom-up version of development conducive with the cultural underpinnings of the community.

Much has been written in recent times on how ‘development’ has come to colonise the world ever since the term was first coined in 1945, at the end of World War II. However, there is no denying that the promise of development has failed the marginalised millions across the world. The seductively packaged idea of economic emancipation has continued to persist, a non-negotiable entity that has contributed to strengthening the political economy of the nation-state in the name of the poor. The book is an optimistic undertaking that raises the stakes of the marginalised community as it glorifies the marginal space it has been pushed into.

All said, it is unlikely if the discourse on development will get a dent in the State where caste-based economic marginalisation is more of a norm than exception. However, the fact that the Musahars are seeking change beyond sheer material progress underscores the need for placing dignity and freedom ahead of the prevailing ideology of development.

The Marginalized Self: Tales of Resistance of a Community; Edited by Rahul Ghai & Others, Primus Books, ₹1095.

The reviewer is an independent writer, researcher and academic.


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