It is well-known that subaltern groups in India resort to the universalizing vocabulary of citizenship in order to stake claims for redistribution and recognition. But on what basis do they do this – especially in contexts of severe coercion? This paper explores this question in light of movement trajectories in the Bhil heartland of western India, where Adivasi communities organized and mobilized against the everyday tyranny of the local state. In particular, I trace how an emotional habitus of fear and resignation was transformed, giving way to an oppositional local rationality predicated on moral courage and reciprocal emotions.

Alf Gunvald Nilsen is professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. His research focuses on the social movements and the political economy of democracy and development in the global South – with a particular focus on India.