Millenarian Dreams, Modern Aspirations:
Tribal Community-Making and Contentious
Politics in Colonial Chotanagpur

by Uday Chandra

Working Papers WP 14-01
April 2014
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper interrogates the concept of “millenarianism,” which has been employed since the 1970s in South Asia and beyond to read subaltern religious movements in an anti-colonial, even proto-nationalist, light. I demonstrate that this anti-colonial reading of millenarian pasts rests on a secular understanding of subaltern politics that avoids a serious study of socio-religious change. Modern statecraft is treated by such scholars, following Max Weber, as secular, and subalterns are then taken to be an oppositional category in which secularization has not yet occurred. Against such a perspective on subaltern-state relations in modern colonial and postcolonial contexts, this paper deploys a range of oral and archival sources to delineate the relationship between socio-religious change and agrarian transformations, thereby revealing the curious modernity of millenarianism among the Mundas, an adivasi or “tribal” group in the Chotanagpur region of eastern India.    

Uday Chandra’s research interests lie at the intersection between agrarian studies, state formation, theories of power and resistance, postcolonial theory, political anthropology, and South Asian history. Chandra’s doctoral research, which took place at the political science department of Yale University, traces intertwined histories of the modern state and its tribal subjects in the Chotanagpur region of eastern India. Currently, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, he is conducting ethnographic research to study circular migration between the eastern Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand and the metropolis of Mumbai, focusing on the relationship between mobility, modernity, and the making of urban and rural spaces in contemporary India.