Modern Asian Studies

Research Article

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Maoist Movement in Jharkhand, India*


a1 Department of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, UK Email:


From millenarian movements to the spread of Hindu rightwing militancy, attacks on adivasi (or tribal) consumption of alcohol have gone hand-in-hand with the project of ‘civilizing the savage’. Emphasizing the agency and consciousness of adivasi political mobilization, subaltern studies scholarship has historically depicted adivasis as embracing and propelling these reformist measures, marking them as a challenge to the social structure. This paper examines these claims through an analysis of the relationship between alcohol and the spread of the Maoist insurgency in Jharkhand, Eastern India. Similar to other movements of adivasi political mobilization, an anti-drinking campaign is part of the Maoist spread in adivasi areas. This paper makes an argument for focusing on the internal diversity of adivasi political mobilization—in particular intergenerational and gender conflicts—emphasizing the differentiated social meanings of alcohol consumption (and thus of prohibition), as well as the very different attitudes taken by adivasis towards the Maoist campaign. The paper thus questions the binaries of ‘sanskritisation’ versus adivasis assertion that are prevalent in subaltern studies scholarship, proposing an engagement with adivasi internal politics that could reveal how adivasi political mobilization contains the penetrations of dominant sanskritic values, limitations to those penetrations and other aspirations, such as the desire for particular notions of modernity.

(Online publication November 10 2010)


* I would like to thank Stephan Feuchtwang, Crispin Bates and Chris Gregory for comments on an early draft of this paper. I am grateful to the participants of the ‘Savage Attack: Adivasi Insurgency in India’ workshop that Crispin and I organised in London in June 2008, and to the anonymous reviewer at Modern Asian Studies, for engaging in the ideas and ethnography that have shaped this paper.