Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Brown University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
Affect and Temporality in Human Rights: Death by Starvation in Rajasthan, India

In this project I investigate the 'temporality' and 'affect' of human rights in the context of a newly globalizing economy. The human rights framework seems to work best when faced with immediate, morally abhorrent acts of catastrophic violence. Is it as viable when confronted by pervasive, longer-term problems of structural inequality? This problem is exemplified by the 'beginning' and 'end' of a recent controversy over state responsibility, following a spate of starvation deaths among the Sahariya tribes in the Baran district of Rajasthan, India. The controversy began with a petition filed by the 'Right to Food' Campaign in the Indian Supreme Court, in April 2001, charging the government with culpability for the 'unnatural deaths', since public food stocks stood at an unprecedented high. Following a complex entanglement of juridical-political responses, media reports describe the controversy as having 'ended', even as similar deaths among the Sahariyas are reported in subsequent years. Is it possible to sustain the affective intensity required for the invocation of 'human rights' in the face of endemic scarcity? Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen's influential work on 'hunger and public action', which provides the intellectual basis for the 'Right to Food' campaign, points to the difficulty of analyzing or generating public sentiment around endemic scarcity as distinct from large-scale, newsworthy events like famines. I shall attempt to address this lacunae anthropologically, combining multi-sited ethnography with archival work in order to trace: a) the long history of governmental 'improvement schemes' and interventions in the region, b) the subjective modalities of experiencing crisis or loss immanent to a regularized ecology of scarcity, c) the ways in which the deaths get discursively re-configured through local, national and international networks, and d) the forms in which these discursive movements are drawn back into the weave of everyday life in Baran.