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Under the syndicate raj: criminalization and protection in a Muslim community in New Town, Kolkata

Arnavas, Chiara (2020) Under the syndicate raj: criminalization and protection in a Muslim community in New Town, Kolkata. MPhil thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004218


Syndicates play a central role in the construction industry of peri-urban Kolkata: small cartels for the provision of sand, stones, and bricks, they are often presented as mafia-like organisations by the national media. Stereotyped representations of gangsters and bosses, however, overlook the social mechanisms at the heart of the syndicates, namely, criminalization and protection. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the rapidly urbanising periphery of Kolkata, this thesis explains the importance of criminalization and protection for the functioning of the ‘syndicate raj’, that is, the rule of syndicates. The chapters of the dissertation examine the experiences of low-class Muslim villagers, who are at the bottom of the syndicate hierarchy. Their work in the lower ranks of the syndicates is criminalised both by Hindu neighbours and by local state authorities. Muslim villagers, however, are sometimes able to turn criminalization to their own purposes: either by emphasising how syndicate work is deeply intertwined with family, kinship, and local community; or by carefully using such external labels when dealing with residents, workers, and government officials. In engaging with syndicate work, Muslim villagers don’t simply pursue their individual interests at the cost of kinship ties and family values. Instead, they try to justify their work in moral terms and build ethical projects for their families. Low-level syndicate workers are embedded in networks of state protection that they perceive as coercive and precarious. Muslim villagers become the risk-bearers of extortion practices, as they perform a visible criminal persona and face arrests, social stigma and exclusion from profits. The public criminalization of Muslim workers at the bottom of the syndicate hierarchy thus occludes inner mechanisms of coercive protection and precarious cheap labour, which reproduce inequalities between common people and wealthy politicians.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Additional Information: © 2020 Chiara Arnavas
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Steinmüller, Hans and Scott, Michael W.

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