The Vernacularisation of Democracy
Politics, Caste and Religion in India
Published October 24th 2008 by Routledge India – 256 pages
The book is an ethnographic exploration of how ‘democracy’ takes social and cultural roots in India and in the process shapes the nature of popular politics. It centres on a historically marginalised caste who in recent years has become one of the most assertive and politically powerful communities in North India: the Yadavs.
The Vernacularisation of Democracy is a vivid account of how Indian popular democracy works on the ground. Challenging conventional theories of democratisation the book shows how the political upsurge of 'the lower orders' is situated within a wider process of the vernacularisation of democratic politics, referring to the ways in which values and practices of democracy become embedded in particular cultural and social practices, and in the process become entrenched in the consciousness of ordinary people. During the 1990s, Indian democracy witnessed an upsurge in the political participation of lower castes/communities and the emergence of political leaders from humble social backgrounds who present themselves as promoters of social justice for underprivileged communities. Drawing on a large body of archival and ethnographic material the author shows how the analysis of local idioms of caste, kinship, kingship, popular religion, ‘the past’ and politics (‘the vernacular’) inform popular perceptions of the political world and of how the democratic process shapes in turn ‘the vernacular’. This line of enquiry provides a novel framework to understand the unique experience of Indian democracy as well as democratic politics and its meaning in other contemporary post-colonial states.
Using as a case study the political ethnography of a powerful northern Indian caste (the Yadavs) and combining ethnographic material with colonial and post-colonial history the book examines the unique experience of Indian popular democracy and provides a framework to analyse popular politics in other parts of the world. The book fills existing gaps in scholarly analysis of political processes by contributing to the understanding of how democracy has been internalised in the popular consciousness of different societies through various abstract principles of political representation, especially by exploring ‘democracy’ in areas which are not thought of as political per se (for example, family, kinship, kingship, popular religion, and local ideas of personhood).
"Micheluttti’s engagement with this rather interesting puzzle of Indian democracy where poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and political violence co-exist with a commitment to the idea of democracy among the poor and the deprived makes this work a fascinating read for students of comparative politics and democratic theory." - Manish K. Thakur, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta; Contemporary South Asia, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 2010
"The Vernacularisation of Democracy raises important questions about anthropological approaches towards the political and the importance of broadening not only the ethnographers’ thematic focus but also toolkit. The book will be of particular consequence for students and scholars of democracy, South Asia, state/society, popular politics, caste and religion across the humanities and social sciences." - Philippa Williams, Pacific Affairs: Volume 84, No. 4 – December 2011
1. The Rise of Popular Democracy in North India 2. In the Yadav Neighbourhood: Mapping the Vernacular Domains of Democracy 3. Sons of Krishna: Dialogs With the Colonial and Post-Colonial State 4. Reshaping Kinship: The Making of a ‘Numerous Community’ 5. Religion, Kingship and Political Identities: Gods are Ancestors and Ancestors Can Become Gods 6. Krishna, the Democratic Leader: Political Rhetorics and Modern Political Charisma 7. ‘We are a Caste of Politicians’: A Folk Understanding of Democracy. Conclusion: Towards an Anthropological Understanding of Popular Politics
Dr Lucia Michelutti is Research Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), Department of Anthropology. She has worked extensively on popular politics, caste, race, religion and democracy in North India (1998-2000; 2001; 2007) and more recently in Venezuela (2005-2006). She received her MA and PhD from the LSE. Michelutti currently holds a four year ESRC Research Fellowship for a project which comparatively investigates the social and cultural practices of popular politics and the dynamics of new forms of socialism in Latin America (Venezuela) and South Asia (India) including the role of religion in politics, and the dynamics of identity politics (caste and Muslim community in India and afro-Venezuelan community in Venezuela).
The author has published various articles on caste and politics. Some of them include: ‘"We (Yadavs) are a Caste of Politicians": Caste and Modern Politics in a North Indian Town’ (2004); ‘The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Popular Politics and Political Participation in India’ (2007); ‘We are Kshatriyas but We Behave like Vaishyas: Diet and Muscular Politics among a Community of Yadavs in North India’ (forthcoming). Michelutti is presently writing her next book drawing from her recent fieldwork in Venezuela. The monograph, provisionally entitled Reborn Socialism: The Everyday Live of Hugo Chavez’s Revolutionary Venezuela, explores how anti-capitalist and socialist political discourses have regained power in contemporary times.