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Egoism, anomie and masculinity: suicide in rural South India (Andhra Pradesh)

Nilotpal, Kumar (2011) Egoism, anomie and masculinity: suicide in rural South India (Andhra Pradesh). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The dissertation offers an examination of the incidence and significance of ‘farmer suicides’ in post-reform India. Based on fieldwork conducted in a village in Anantpur district, Andhra Pradesh, it challenges the notion that the official category of ‘farm-related’ suicides is always characterized by farm-related etiologies. Instead, it shows an etiological continuum underlying these suicides. One end of this continuum does comprise genuine farm-related suicides that are distinguished by high levels of indebtedness on account of non-fructuous investments in groundwater extraction, land-leases, expenditure on marriage(s) of daughter(s) and health related difficulties. But there is also a large sub-category amongst official ‘farm-related’ suicides that includes many that are not exclusively or principally farm-related. Sometimes called “fake (farm-related) suicides”, this sub-category is explained locally in terms of a range of familial or inter-family disputes. It is by systematically creating or inflating the extent of household indebtedness after a suicide, attributing it to ‘farm-expenditures’, and then denying non farm- related causes in collusion with the police during an inquest, that local peasants manage to have such suicides classified officially as ‘farmers’ suicides’. Such a classification is to their financial or social advantage. My analysis of local farming practices confirms the view that the entrenchment of capital-intensive groundwater-based commercial agriculture in a semi-arid zone has intensified various production related risks. However, the dissertation also shows that rural suicides represent significant social and cultural disjunctions. Local inter and intra-family kin relationships are increasingly undermined by rising individualism and its attendant friction. There are also normative tensions that arise out of an acute desire on the part of local peasants to adopt status-enhancing, refined lifestyles and consumption practices. A local ideology of masculinity (paurusham) structures the interaction between these wider economic, social and cultural changes and emergent notions of self amongst the villagers. Local suicides, whether they are principally farm-related or not, represent differential possession of masculine aggression, and one’s capacity and willingness to construe and avenge irreversible dishonour (avamanam). Insofar as the claim of honour is widely democratized now, and insofar as there is an expansion in the scope of social space in which it is claimed now, the possibilities of experiencing dishonour and the need to avenge it by way of suicide has also increased.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Kumar Nilotpal
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Harriss, John and Corbridge, Stuart

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