T-shirts and Tumblers: caste, politics and industrial work in Tiruppur's textile belt, Tamilnadu
De Neve, Geert
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This article explores the variegated nature of processes of neoliberalisation and their diverse impacts on relations of caste and dependency in rural India. Focusing on the rural hinterland of Tiruppur, a major industrial cluster in Tamil Nadu, south India, the article examines the ways in which neoliberal regimes insert themselves in the region and combine, coexist or clash with existing institutional regimes of power. It documents the highly differentiated and unpredictable effects neoliberalisation has on the lives of villagers who have become directly or indirectly engulfed by its processes, paying particular attention to the uneven impacts on local landscapes of capitalist production and on rural relations of caste and dependency. The article examines rural transformations through the contrasting experiences of Dalits in two villages that became connected to the Tiruppur industry. While in one village, Dalits gained access to the urban industry, in the other, they remained disconnected from urban garment jobs due to persistent relations of debt bondage and unfree labour. It is argued that processes of industrial neoliberalisation do not lead to linear transformations in caste relations and social inequalities. Rather, the relevance and meaning of caste are transformed in uneven, and often even contrasting ways, depending on how particular localities are integrated into wider institutional regimes of power and rule. Processes of neoliberalisation unleash powerful encounters between old structures of power and new regimes of rule, and generate new configurations that defy prediction and expectation.