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Negotiating a Better Life: Emerging Trends in the Politics of Ordinary and Poor Muslims in Kolkata

Anasua Chatterjee

Journal of South Asian Development, 2019, vol. 14, issue 2, 223-243

Abstract: Since Independence, Muslim politics in India has mainly been framed through the idiom of identity. While political engagements calling for democratization and increased participation in public life have occasionally occurred, scholarly interest in the ongoing shifts in Muslim political demands is recent and new. Simultaneously, the emerging literature on the politics of patronage and post-patronage networks in democracies of the Global South present anthropologists with new tools for studying the changing contours of the political mobilization of the urban poor. Using ethnographic narratives collected during fieldwork in Park Circus—one of Kolkata’s many Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods—which remains stigmatized and socially and spatially set apart, this article highlights the emerging modes of political engagement among poor and lower middle-class Muslims. I carefully document their efforts to negotiate a perceived ‘better’ life within a fast-changing neoliberal urban landscape that is prejudiced against them. For many ordinary Muslims, this has involved a movement away from the traditional elite-led politics of identity towards more plebeian forms of assertion and activism aimed at eking out a respectable living by working through extant structures of the local administration and networks of power in the neighbourhood.

Keywords: South Asia; Kolkata; Muslims; political participation; urban poor; plebeian politics; patronage; post-clientelism (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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Handle: RePEc:sae:soudev:v:14:y:2019:i:2:p:223-243