Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Based on ethnography from North Bihar, one of the poorest areas of India, also ridden by disasters and caste-based violence, I look at the relation between caste-based discrimination, embodied knowledge and interspecies care. Rural people in North Bihar care about the wellbeing of the river, plants, animals, of nature in general, in ways that are not only socialized through caste, but also constantly redefined by political concerns and social aspirations. For example, fisherfolk interact with, and more specifically care for waterbodies, its banks, plants, fish, in ways that are embodied and unspoken, yet constantly redefined by political-economic challenges from the state and the mafia, as well as by the social-political aspirations of their caste. To a certain extent, such challenges and aspirations counterproductively influence their practices of care and wellbeing, and dangerously intersect with poverty, disasters, lack of access to health care and difficulties in attaining proper nutrition. Yet, such practices also reveal a finely grained political awareness and ecological imagination, and could be read as stunning examples of class consciousness against all odds: not only weapons of the weak, but even attempts to counter processes of hegemony, therefore these practices can be read as questioning standard ideas of environmental justice. This political epistemology of wellbeing through interspecies care and embodied knowledge is also productive in interdisciplinary studies I am conducting with ecologists and activists in a larger area along the river Ganga.