Relocating ‘Alienation’ & ‘Solidarity’




This paper makes an attempt to revisit the classical sociological theories and resurrect them to understand the present state of cold modernity and painful experiences of violent disruption and dislocation owing to capitalism and its continuation in the postcolonial countries like India.  The State acting as a representative of the capitalist class interest is disguised in the notion of acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ and apparently the public in ‘public purpose’ comprises of the only few direct beneficiaries of development, throwing the majority of the population into a state of static misery.1Development induced internal involuntary displacement is one of the gravest consequences of capitalism, leading to dehumanizing conditions and alienation of man from man and man from nature. However, an enlightened civil society has led to a number of people’s movement aimed at protection of basic human rights and an act of solidarity is seen in victims’ strong determination to resist this kind of development through organizedprotests and at times even through armed rebellions.




The human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.

-Arthur Schopenhauer (On the suffering of the world)

Marx’s materialist conception of history echoes Schopenhauer’s philosophy to some extent. Human productive forces at once shall turn into forces beyond the comprehension of humans, determining their thoughts, ideas and their very nature as human beings, taking them to state of alienation. And Marx was of the view that this would start with the commodification of land, when landed property would be viewed only as capital and nothing more. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts Marx has said, “It is necessary that this appearance be abolished-that landed property, the root of private property, be dragged completely into the movement of private property and that it become a commodity; that the rule of the proprietor appear as the undisguised rule of private property, of capital, freed of all political tincture; that the relationship between proprietor and worker be reduced to the economic relation of the exploiter and exploited;  that all personal relationship between the proprietor and his property cease, property becoming merely objective, material wealth; that the marriage of convenience should take the place of the marriage of honour with the land; and that the land should likewise sink to the status of a commercial value, like man…it is essential that in this competition landed property, in the form of capital, manifests its dominion over both the working class and the proprietors themselves who are either being ruined or raised by the laws governing the movement of capital…the complete domination of dead matter over men. (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 63)

In the present day context, Marx’s vision seems truest in the case of development induced internal involuntary displacement. In the name of development, the land of the indigenous people are taken away, most of the times rendering them homeless, leaving them with a deep sense of alienation, exclusion and insecurity. Development induced displacement has a long history in India.


Development and Displacement in India

Development is usually conceived as a positive transformation of society; a culmination of social, economic and institutional processes which secures the means for obtaining a better life.Unfortunately, it seems, in India the model of development followed has a shadow side that cannot be ignored. Since the time of colonial rule the people of India had been uprooted in the name of development policies. No doubt the legacy is still retained in independent India and is found in a number of government policies couched in the rhetoric of development and welfare. For example, when the developmental projects (roads, dams, factories etc.) are sanctioned seldom it is taken into consideration if the local people might be inconvenienced. Another example is that of policies like Joint Forest Management (JFM), where although the purpose is to involve local people in their as well as the country’s development, in the long run (and in most cases), however, they act as tools in manipulating land and labour and gradually usurps their rights over their land. Yet another example is policy measures like that of Government Regulation of 1964 which aimed at liberating the Sulungs (Puroiks) of Arunachal Pradesh by way of buying them from their masters against Rupees 500 each. Many of the Sulungs set loose from their masters did not know what to do and were displaced in the absence of any effective alternative. A survey of 1996 still identified a number of bonded labourers amongst the Sulungs ‘sandwiched between liberation and rehabilitation’.2 Moreover, with the beginning of the New Economic Policies and opening up of markets and resources to the foreign companies, the developmental process in India has taken a dramatic turn, causing the indigenous communities unexpected misery and in a way affirming what Noam Chomsky terms as ‘catastrophe of capitalism’.


The kind of development that is being preferred in India necessarily involves undertaking various developmental plans and projects for:Strategic purposes (like, defence establishments, military, air force, and naval works or any other work vital to the State); infrastructure (construction of irrigation and hydel projects, ports and industrial corridors, transport corridors, urban growth, and so on); production (establishing industrial plants, manufacturing/processing zones, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), etc.; Mining/extraction (minerals and ores, oil and natural gas); Biosphere protection/conservation (national parks and wildlife sanctuaries), etc. Clearly most of these cases entail massive land acquisition. The question that arises here is ‘whose land?’ Since India still is basically an agricultural country, with more than half of the population dependent on primary activities, that is a direct dependence on nature, it is the local peoples’ land and especially the ethnic indigenous communities; the ‘adivasis’. These subaltern groups who were never given a chance to speak for themselves, whose fate had been determined by the majoritarian interests, live with a perennial threat of being ousted from their land, being outnumbered by migrants and sometimes even of losing their language and culture to them.

Since independence, development projects of the Five Year Plans have displaced about five lakh persons each year primarily as a direct consequence of administrative land acquisition.3The mineral wealth lying in the mountains of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand States- a non-renewable resource- is being opened up to an unprecedented scale of mining and metal manufacture by Indian as well as foreign companiesleading to mass dispossession. The processing of these ores into metal further requires establishment of huge factories and dams. It is a little known fact that supplying electricity and water to metal factories has always been one of the main reasons for big dams.

The Koel Karo project was commissioned despite the fact that it would have destroyed 200 tribal villages and submerged 45,000 hectares of arable land. In 1985, the World Bank approved the $450 million Sardar Sarover Multi-Purpose Dam Project on the Narmada. According to World Bank estimates, the project was to generate 1300 million cubic-meters per year of water for civic and industrial purposes, an installed capacity of 1450 MW of electricity and provide irrigation to 1.9 million hectares of land. The project was to submerge 13744 hectares of forest land, 11318 hectares of fertile agricultural land, and displace over 100,000 people, mostly persons and families belonging to the category of Scheduled Tribes and the rural poor. 4Even sociologist Walter Fernandes estimates that about 40 per cent of all those displaced by government projects are of tribal origin. Evidently development in modern nation states, which try to organize the people in an imagined territorial space defined as nation along with having a strong homogenizing tendency also is constantly involved in an ethnic cleansing project.


Land as ‘private property’ and as ‘home’

When we think of property what comes to mind is ‘owning an object/thing’, basically then property defines possessory relations of humans with things. Land is perhaps one such thing in the history of social experience, which determines the social conditions of existence. Possessory relationships entail relationships of power. Who appropriates what from whom?  And this tendency of appropriation is inherently human because it is a survival strategy. In German Ideology Marx mentions “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization. By producing means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life…” Thus ever since human began interacting with nature, exploiting nature for fulfilling basic needs, these kinds of possessory relations emerged.  However Marx’s theory of historical materialism helps us understand the different degrees of such power relations. Marx is of the view that in the Asiatic and Ancient mode of production the class divisions were not sharp, in the feudal structure it grew sharper,  but it was only in the capitalist mode of production that class consciousness and class antagonism are apparently sharper than any other period. It means capitalist structure provides the perfect conditions in which the tendency of appropriation exceeds the survival instinct to an instinct of accumulation of surplus (wealth)owing to ‘overproduction’. Hence, where every individual should have some natural rights over the land on which they are living turns to clash of legal rights, whereby the more powerful /wealthy claimed most of the land, thus alienating those who had natural claims on those lands.

Marx in his Manuscripts mentions “The domination of the land as an alien power over men is already inherent in feudal landed property.”(EPM of 1844, p.61) In India, we can grasp this in the structures of Zamindari systems but even then although labourers were exploited, they were not at least evicted from the land (from their home).  But now India is passing through the stage of ‘capitalization of landed property’ which according to Marx liberates capital that is gives capital its purest form. According to Marx “landed property in its distinction from capital is private property-capital-still afflicted with local and political prejudices; it is capital which has not yet regained itself from its entanglement with the world-capital not yet fully developed.”(EPM of 1844, p. 91)He also asserts that “ The real course of development …results in the necessary victory of the capitalist over the landowner- that is to say, of developed over undeveloped immature private property- just as generally movement must triumph over immobility- open, self-conscious baseness over hidden, unconscious baseness; avarice over self-indulgence; the avowedly restless, adroit self-interest of enlightenment over the parochial, worldwise, naïve, idle and deluded self-interest of superstition; money over the other forms of private property.”(EPM of 1844, p. 91)In capitalist society, no matter how democratically it functions, land becomes ‘private property’ and the notion of ‘communal property’ is accepted only to the extent where it acts as an imperative for further development and is discarded the moment it stands an obstacle to the interest of the capitalist class. The state than (disguisedly acting as an agent of the capitalist class) claims the land under the rhetoric of development for ‘public purpose’. Land becomes a mere commodity, as a means to an end and all other social and aesthetical values that might be attached to it are overlooked. Land that is the territorial/spatial structure acts as the basis for the growth of a community and prospers the feeling of ‘home’. Land, possessed for a long period of time becomes home which means memories, ambiences, neighbours, members of the joint family and the clan, trees and cattle, one’s community, moral beliefs and convictions, one’s very existence and much more. One is what one is by virtue of living at home where one actually lives. Regrettably, now a day land only retains its economic value and nothing more. In his manuscripts Marx clarifies that although private property seems to be the cause of alienated labour, it is actually the other way round. “Every self-estrangement of man from himself and from nature appears in relation in which he places himself and nature to men other than and differentiated from himself… Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labour, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself.” (EPM of 1844, pp. 79-80)



Appropriation of Land and Alienation

Marx’s concept of Alienation carries within it two semantic elements, that is renunciation or relinquishment (voluntary acts of disposal of claims) and estrangement (compulsory acts of surrender and abdication). At the first level alienation functions as a correlative of ‘appropriation’ which includes taking possession or assumption of powers not previously held-whether with consent or through ‘expropriation/forcible appropriation’ by compulsion. Alienation and appropriation taken together, without any undue stretching of their everyday meanings can be used to describe a complete transfer of claims from one party to another, representing the beginning and end of a social process and two poles of a social relationship. The parties involved may be individuals or collectivities. Unlike this sense of ‘alienation’ which refers only to actions and not emotions, estrangement refers in the first place to how people feel about one another and describes the affective tone or texture of a relationship, or the direction in which its emotional content is changing. Thus Marx’s concept of appropriation and alienation is concerned with the making and breaking of social bonds between persons and things. This standpoint of Marx can be used to examine what is being done through the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2009 and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 in India.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2009 proposes amendments to the Land Acquisition Act 1894 and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2009 provides a statutory framework for Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) of persons displaced and affected by any development project. But even after amendment, quintessentially, the first bill upholds the ‘eminent domain’ of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 by retaining powers of the State to expropriate lands without the consent of the owners. It is called ‘public purpose’ although it is one of the most abused clauses in the history of Land Acquisition Act. The Draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, which has been placed in the public domain inviting comments from people proposes prohibition of land acquisition without prior rehabilitation and prohibits acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land and makes it mandatory that 80 per cent of the owners give their consent to the transfer of land. But it is a well-known fact that it is never the owners who are actually send to misery but the landless labourers and the tribal who own land in common and do not have pattas are the actual victims of displacement. No matter however the bills try to compensate the Project Affected Persons (Project Affected Persons itself being a debated term for excluding some sections of population like ‘refugees’) , the ultimate reality is that the primary objective is to facilitate an acquisition in order to carry forward the policies of neo-liberalization and support the interests of the corporate sector.  Dr.Melvil Pereira says- “Its emphasis on a better R&R coverage to solve the problems of land acquisition is a mockery of the rights of people whose livelihood, identity, security and very survival depend on land.”5

In one judgement in 1994 justifying the acquisition of land, the Supreme Court stated that, “The power to acquire private property for public use is an attribute of sovereignty and is essential to the existence of a government. The power of eminent domain was recognised on the principle that the sovereign state can always acquire the property of a citizen for public good, without the owner’s consent… The right to acquire an interest in land compulsorily has assumed increasing importance as a result of requirement of such land more and more every day, for different public purpose and to implement the promises made by the framers of the Constitution to the people of India (emphasis added)6 This is the sheer irony of the situation for the more land is appropriated for public purpose, the more the ‘actual public’ is harassed and what Marx called as the ‘state of alienation’ comes to the forefront.


Displacement and Different Dimensions of Alienation

“With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of man.”(EPM of 1844, p.69)Marx’s theory of Alienation best establishes the present condition of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Although when Marx talks of ‘alienation’ strictly in the language of political economy that is as a consequence of objectification of labour and the worker, somehow his words “labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being (emphasis added); that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind… What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.” (EPM of 1844, pp. 72-73) gives an impression of an individual’s existential crisis; of a crisis rooted in his identityin relation to the rest of the material and social world. Alienation is a subjective condition produced by objective conditions inherent in the social and economic arrangements of capitalism. It is the distorted form that humanity’s objectification of its species being takes under capitalism. Marx claims that in capitalist mode of production the product produced by the labourer and the act of production becomes external to his presence, he sells his labour simply to survive and with no motivation beyond that and as a result he also gradually gets alienated from his fellow beings and even from himself. This is the extreme sense of misery. And this same misery is being plagued upon the victims of development induced displacement.

The displaced people, in most casethe tribal and peasants are materially alienated in the sense that their livelihood is snatched away from them. These are the people who have direct relation with land and nature because either they are farmers, pastoralists, and fisherfolk and handloom weavers working in harmony with the nature. The product of their life-activity involves interacting with nature and when they are forcefully exiled to another piece of land, their life-activity merely becomes labour. In a way these simple people are forced to accept the capitalist way of work and the consequent distress following it like low wages and unhygienic living and working atmosphere. Their low level of modern skills coupled with almost non-existent official efforts to facilitate an easier entry into the dominant economy, pushes a majority of tribals into conditions of servility and bondage.

But the link between a land and the people inhabiting it for a long time is a profound one, encompassing the material, socio-cultural and emotional dimensions of one’s life, so  the alienation experienced by the victims of development induced displacement cannot  be kept limited to the material sphere and perhaps could be  best described with the help of Melvin Seeman’s proposed alternative meanings of alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement.7Seeman while describing these meanings in details gives an insight to the psychological state of an alienated being. People have historical memories attached to the place they live in and further the geographical space and an evolved relationship with it contributes to their cultural identity and their complex patterns of subsistence which primarily depend on land, forests, water bodies and plant and animal life. Moreover, most do not live in discrete nuclear families but in extended ones that are integrally linked to a larger community fabric. Development induced displacement has caused widespread traumatic psychological and socio-cultural consequences. These include the dismantling of traditional production systems (mostly their lifestyle of cultivating their own food as their own masters), desecration of ancestral sacred zones or graves and temples, scattering of kinship groups and family systems, disorganisation of informal social networks that provide mutual support, weakening of self-management and social control, disruption of trade and market links, etc. Forced displacement has resulted in, what Michael Cernea calls “a spiral of impoverishments”. 8There is also loss of complex social relationships which provided avenues of representation, mediation and conflict resolution. In essence, the very cultural identity of the community and the individual within it is disrupted causing immense physiological and psychological distress. One of the tragedies of forced displacement by development is that while in most cases, persons displaced by natural disasters or communal violence are able to return to their original habitat, these choices are not available to those displaced or those whose livelihoods are adversely affected. Displacement has the most adverse impact on women and children because women experience greater pauperisation and gets confined to the margins of labour market and in the children’s life there is disruption in the whole traditional socialisation process.

In such conditions the people are totally lost in a maze of policies that keep determining their existence and over which they have no say. They feel alienated. Alienation is thus a feeling of powerlessness to influence the course of events that is affecting every aspect of their lives, not least their personal security.

Above all the failure in launching proper resettlement and rehabilitation schemes has added to the oustees’ grievances. In spite of the scale of displacement, efforts for resettling those displaced by development projects and processes have been minimal. A majority of those displaced by renowned projects like Hirakud dam in Orissa have never been officially resettled. Official indifference and insensitivity is also evident in the lack of data regarding the total number of persons displaced by different developmental interventions. Independent studies of the oustees of Hirakud placed the figure for those displaced at 1,80,000 while government figures were 1,10,000.9 Very few resettlement programmes in the country have adequately compensated all those who are dispossessed. Moreover the low amounts of compensation and, in rare cases, land-for-land, reinforce dependency on government officials who are mostly corrupt leading to further harassment of the already victimized oustees. The most traumatic phase however is during the process of transiting from the original habitat to the resettlement site. The victims also have to encounter hostile attitude from the host communities at the resettlement sites ranging from conflicts in sharing of commons to jealousy of the host communities arising out of the special services provided to oustees. Many a times the host communities who had been amiable neighbours in the past turn to enemies in the present. This further alienates the victims of displacement and heightens their misery.

Samir Kumar Das says “Much of the controversy centring on the IDPs of the North East revolves around the question of legitimacy of their settlement in places wherefrom they have been displaced and therefore the rightfulness of their claim to home. History is conveniently invoked to buttress or discard one’s claim to settlement and home. Most of whatever is available in the form of writings on the IDPs in the region, to my mind unnecessarily gets into the controversy engaged in determining the legitimacy, rightfulness or historicity of such claims and counterclaims.”10 This is the case in most parts of India. He further says “Law creates a fictive world of equals but a world that the modern capitalist state seeks to actualize through all its everyday actions and protocols… Displaced persons… are displaced not simply from their homes or places of habitual residence but from the world of law that establishes the principle of equality for the citizens and treats them at par with each other.”11 Thus even justice is governmentalized and is subjected to its paraphernalia and complex modalities. As a result displaced persons suffer from the double jeopardy of displacement and their acquired inability to articulate claims in the language of law.


Amidst this situation of being forced to have a deterritorialized identity- what Said calls ‘a generalized condition of homelessness’ victims and potential victims grew aware of their plight and this growing awareness gave rise to a wide range of protests all over the country. Adivasis show an increasing determination to stand up and refuse to be displaced. These resistance movements were not new. They have a long history.



History of Resistance against Development Induced Displacement


In the colonial period there were major rebellions in tribal areas, as for example the Kol and Bhumj revolts of the early 19th century, the Santhal ‘hool’ of 1855, the BirsaMunda-led ‘ulugulan’ in the 1890s, the uprising in Bastar in 1911, the protests in Gudem-Rampa in the 1920s, and the Warli revolt of 1945-46. Most often, these protests had to do with the alienation of land or the expropriation of forests. These communities mobilised to oppose colonial policies of resource extraction. Guha and Gadgil12 have aptly described this conflict as between the political economy of profit and moral economy of provision.


The first two decades after Independence were, comparatively speaking, a time of peace in tribal India. But with the general euphoria of independence turning to contempt as a result of failure of the state in delivering distributive justice and in recognizing and respecting diversity of cultures, the tribals started resisting outside (State) intervention in their lives. Thus, for example, there was a major uprising of adivasis in Bastar in 1966, led by their recently deposed maharaja, Pravir Chandra BhanjDeo. In the 1970s, tribals in Maharashtra were organised in defence of their land and forest rights by groups such as the BhoomiSena and the KashtakariSanghatana. Also in the 1970s, there were the protests against the Koel-Karo projects in Bihar. Then, beginning in the 1980s, and coming down to the present day, the plight of tribals ousted by development projects (and by large dams in particular) has been highlighted by the Narmada BachaoAndolan and the recent protests against the Subansiri project in Assam. Most recently, adivasis threatened by mining projects in Orissa have organised a series of processions and boycotts to reassert their rights over land handed over by the state government to mining companies. The names Vedanta and Kalinganagar are today’s symbols of the extreme pressures which tribal people face, as well as of powerful movements to prevent industries taking over tribal territory. Above and beyond these various protests, Maoist revolutionaries have been active in tribal areas. Over the past four decades, the adivasis of central India have often expressed their public and collective discontent with the policies and programmes of the state. Their protests have some-times (as in Bastar in 1966 or in Jharkhand in the late 1970s) taken recourse to traditional means and traditional leaders. At other times (as in Maharashtra in the 1970s, or in the Narmada Andolan), adivasis have been mobilised by social activists from an urban, middle class, background. More recently, however, tribal disaffection has been largely expressed under the leadership of armed Maoist revolutionaries. Added to the already existing grievances of displacement, the State’s efforts to control Maoism in these areas have led to more displacement of native people. A look at the case of Bastar region of Chattisgarh gives a further insight into the problem of the tribals.


Nandini Sunder in her article ‘Bastar, Maoism and SalwaJudum’ vividly portrays what ‘Bastar’ was and what it has been turned to now. The tribals in Bastar was (to some extent still is) a charming picture of savages who do not want to come out to the outer world and mingle with the modern civilization. But the State forced its way into this ‘tribal heartland’ with the plans for more mines and metal factories. There has been a strong resistance from tribals, later with the help of Maoists. But the state with the help of Special Police Officerscreated among the tribaland naming it SalwaJudum that is ‘peace mission’ tried to curb down the Maoists. There has been an escalation of the state of war and mass displacement, around 60,000 tribal people have been removed from their villages by war and around 670 beautiful villages lie burnt and abandoned.13And all this is to starve Maoists of their support base. In a way the State has revived the age old colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’, callously avoiding the consequences of pain and suffering the innocent native tribals might face. But even on the face of such displacement, death and destruction the resistance continues. The question that arises is what is force behind these people’s movements?


 Dynamics of Alienation and Solidarity


If we relocate back the forces of these movements in terms of Marxian and Durkheimian theory, we will find two mechanisms at work viz. ‘alienation/estrangement’ and ‘solidarity’. We can classify these victims of displacement as a class standing antagonistically to their ‘other’ that is the State and the private parties who evicted/wants to evict them from their homeland. An extreme kind of alienation (a feeling of exclusion and identity crisis in this case) makes a class conscious of its position and it is at that point that the class solidifies to revolt against the oppression and the oppressors. Moreover Marx was convinced that capitalist mode of production would ultimately self-destruct, that as capitalism matures,it becomes more and more unstable. Perhaps these People’s movements are one symptom of this instability, rising to their potential and posing a threat to the whole structure of capitalism.


Theories of post-modernism and post-capitalism asserts this instability, this fragmented nature of society, the emergence of various classes in place of two particular class and affirms that even with globalization and deterritorialization, the concepts of ‘locality’ and ‘homeland’ are not lost, in fact globalization actually helped these communities become aware of their historical situation and present conditions, leading them to claim their indigenous identity and right to homeland. The popular concern for displaced persons emerged ironically from out of a concern from the purview of one’s collective self and community supposedly facing some sort of danger- the danger of cultural genocide and hence the struggle of the adivasis (the tribals) to keep their land and culture intact can be justified.


Durkheim in Division of Labour says that morality and division of labour are not directly related. This is of course noticed in the way division of labour under capitalism, which is supposedly the basis for organic solidarity, functions and is perfectly evident in the case of development induced displacement because irrespective of the pain being inflicted on humanity, development is taking place under the rhetoric of ‘sacrificing for national good’ but then Durkheim asks ‘what about collective immorality?’ and this situation of rendering people homeless is obviously a case of collective immorality.


Durkheim was concerned with elaborating the connection between the individual and the society, in a time of growing individualism, social dislocation and moral diversification. His theory of the transition from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity is a very relevant one in understanding how law acts as a visible index in maintaining solidarity.  But in India a position of either mechanical solidarity or organic solidarity is not possible for we need to consider that India is not one nation but a collection of nations, not one particular type of society but an assortment of various types of societies brought together whose evolution cannot be viewed in a unilinear pattern. On one hand division of labour owing to ‘dynamic or moral density’ fosters organic solidarity throughout the country but there are still pockets of society very homogeneous in nature, with few people and comparatively less division of labour. According to Durkheim, this type of society is characterized by little social complexity and differentiation, and its members are very similar in their actions and beliefs. In fact, one of the most salient features of this type of society is a strong “collective consciousness”14or shared conception of the world that provides solidarity for society and its members. In brief, these societies are distinguished by the “likeness” of their members and the environment in which they exist. Tribal understanding of land has “encompassed territory, habitat, base of social organisation, political viability, cultural identification, myth, symbol and religion, and included not only the territory but a living entity with the environment, spirits, cosmos and all else in a reciprocal relationship, linking the present with the past and future generations of humans, animals and plants.” 15Thus, it is basically mechanical solidarity which is prevalent in tribal societies.


Mechanical solidarity according to Durkheim can be traced by the presence of repressive law. Anything that tries to disrupt the solidarity of the in-group is seen as a violation of the mechanical solidarity and hence we can see the resistance posed by these tribals against outsiders as an act of repressive justice. On the other hand, the state through the use of restitutive law, by employing SPOs and military in the disturbed areas is further triggering off a clash between the two forms of solidarity which is actually leading to a situation of anomie. Durkheim was right in saying that anomie is a result of forced division of labour. What is happening in these tribal areas is a situation forced division of labour resulting in weakening of organic solidarity and strengthening of mechanical solidarity. Durkheim claimed religion as the basis for mechanical solidarity and according to Durkheim a religion is said to focus on the items that are deemed ‘sacred’ and repulse/exclude those that are categorized residually as ‘profane’.  The sanctity of the sacred resides in the fact that it inspires respect that is sufficiently strong and sufficiently collective. The ‘land’ for them then is a ‘sacred’ thing. Further Durkheim also maintains that organic solidarity is only possible when the differences between the individuals are complementary. When the differences are not complementary as is in the case between the so called ‘backward’ tribals and the so called ‘forward’ sections of the society, solidarity is not possible. The State and the capitalists always pose as the ‘other’ that is the ‘outsider’ for the tribals and hence they resist their interference. Thus even if historically the movement has been from mechanical to organic solidarity, the former never disappears completely. Durkheim himself says- “There is, then, a social life outside the whole division of labour, but which the latter presupposes. That is, indeed, what we have directly established in showing that there are societies whose cohesion is essentially due to a community of beliefs and sentiments, and it is from these societies that those whose unity is assured by the division of labour have emerged.” (Division of Labour, 1964, p. 277)


In mechanical solidarity, individuality is undeveloped and hence there is crisis of accepting multiple identities which is a prerequisite for organic solidarity in urban societies.  In modern urban world an individual is as much an individual as much she/he is a part of the society in which he resides. But that is not applicable among the tribals. Role differentiation may exist but usually even the role-differentiation is within the larger structure of the kinship system of which the individual is a part. Therefore the meaning of one’s existence in the tribal world is intrinsically related to the community in which one lives. She/he derives her/his identity from the group and then motivation for certain social action as a consequence of identification with the group. In a way the whole community acts as ‘the significant other’ which influence one’s conception of ‘self’. What affects one member of the community, affects the others in one or the other way, which is of course not the case among urban dwellers. Durkheim’s proposition of sui generis nature of the society fits perfectly in the case of these tribal societies and the resistance movements they initiate.



Samir Kumar Das says “Loss of home is sure exile for one who has to suffer it…Neither the International Law nor the Constitution of India views one’s right to home as ‘fundamental’ and therefore a non-derogable right. Whatever care and protection the victims are eligible for in the eye of the law are in the nature of compensating them for the loss that the loss of home has inflicted on them.” But is it actually possible to compensate for loss of home?

Marx’s theory of alienation captures perfectly the distress and misery of the people in a capitalist world, where ‘development’ is given priority over human security and human rights; where land is seen as nothing but another form of capital.Nothing above and beyond the material value of anything is being recognized in a society which has been taken over by capitalism. And that is the reason why so many displaced people are still suffering. They are not recognized as right bearing entities and hence not as human beings of flesh and blood but just as objects to be played around with by a section of people in whose hands lay the wealth and power.

Alienation is being felt by the victims and is feared by the potential victims. Hence I see this as the force which triggers off resistance against being displaced. Another mechanism which I feel is behind the various resistance movements (people’s movements) across the country is the presence ‘mechanical solidarity’ among the tribals. No doubt Durkheim advocated that organic solidarity is far stronger than mechanical solidarity. However his assumption lays on the fact that religion which is usually the base of mechanical solidarity would gradually recede, giving way to a rationalized way of thinking in the modern world and hence organic solidarity would take its place. However, metaphorically religion might mean a lot of things which are hold close to one’s community feeling, like homeland or ethnicity or culture. Therefore, even with the emergence of organic solidarity, mechanical solidarity may not lose its space. This is what is seen among the tribals who are still fighting with the state and against displacement for their rights and specially one right, the right to life (with dignity) as granted by Article 21 of Indian Constitution.





  1. Marx in his Manuscripts uses this term to refer to the condition of perpetual misery of the workers when the society is in a state of maximum wealth at the cost of the labour of the workers.
  2. Cited from Samir Das’s book ‘Blisters on their feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North east’ (p. 24)
  3. Source: Economic and Political Weekly, June, 1996- Smitu Kothari’s article ‘Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development.
  4. Source: IGNOU study material: Development, Displacement and Social movements.
  5. Cited from Pereira’s editorial ‘Land Acquisition Bill: boon or bane’, Assam Tribune, September 2, 2011.
  6. Smitu Kothari’s article ‘Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development, Economic and Political Weekly, June 1996
  7. For a better understanding of the term ‘alienation’ I have referred to Melvin Seeman’s article ‘On the meaning of Alienation’ published in American Sociological Review, December 1959.
  1. Smitu Kothari’s article ‘Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development, Economic and Political Weekly, June 1996
  2. Samir Das’s book ‘Blisters on their feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North east’ (p. 24)
  3. (p. 28)
  4. Smitu Kothari’s article ‘Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development, Economic and Political Weekly, June 1996
  5. Source: Felix Padel and SamarendraDas’s report for the SAAG 2006
  6. Following John B. Harms, I also prefer to use collective consciousness instead of collective conscience. In the notes of his article ‘Reason and Social Change in Durkheim’s Thought: The changing relationship between Individual and Society’ (The Pacific Sociological Review, October 1981) he mentions that the French term conscience collective can be translated as either collective conscience (the more common) or collective consciousness. He preferred collective consciousness over collective conscience because the latter is more limited, referring primarily to the faculty of recognizing the distinction between right and wrong. The former is broader in the sense that it is more in line with Durkheim’s intentions, referring to the totality of attitudes, beliefs, and opinions.
  7. Smitu Kothari’s article ‘Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development, Economic and Political Weekly, June 1996





Chris Yuill, “Forgetting and Remembering alienation theory”, History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 24, No. 2, April 2011.


Emile Durkheim, 1964 The Division of Labour in Society, trs. George Simpson, Free Press Paperback edn.,New York.


Felix Padel and Samarendra Das 2006, Anthropology of a Genocide: Tribal Movements in Central India against Over-Industrialisation, for the SAAG 2006.


John B. Harms, 1981, “Reason and Social Change in Durkheim’s Thought: The Changing Relationship between Individual and Society”, the Pacific Sociological Review, Vol. 24, No. 4, Oct. 1981.


John Torrance, 1977 Estrangement, Alienation and Exploitation: A Sociological Approach to Historical Materialism, the Macmillan Press Ltd.


  1. KoteswaraRao, 2011 “Paradoxes of Development and Neo-Landlordism: A Case Study of Andhra Pradesh”, Social Action, Vol. 61, April-June, 2011.


Karl Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trs. Martin Milligan, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.


Melvil Pereira, “Land Acquisition Bill: boon or bane”, Assam Tribune, Sep. 2, 2011.


Melvin Seeman, 1959, “On the Meaning of Alienation” American Sociological Review, Vol. 24, No. 6, December, 1959.


NandiniSundar, 2006, “Bastar, Maoism and SalwaJudum”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 29, July 22-28, 2006.


RamachandraGuha, 2007, “Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 32, August 11-17, 2007.


Samir Kumar Das (ed.), 2008. Blisters on their Feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North East. Sage Publications. New Delhi.


Smitu Kothari, 1996 “Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Development”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 31, No. 24, June 15, 1996.