ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Can the Subaltern Speak?

“Intervention, Identity and Marginality: An Ethnographic Account of the Musahars” by Shilp Shikha Singh (EPW, 18 May 2013) is fascinating to read but it also has some structural problems. The fi rst one is the absence of information about the relationship between the author and the project (ActionAid) about which she wrote uncritically. There are some problems with her claim about the success of the project, but let me fi rst correct some factual information she has provided.

It seems that the author is claiming that the majority of Musahars live in Uttar Pradesh (UP), while in Bihar they “have (only) a noticeable presence” (p 53, fourth paragraph). If this is really her claim, then she is factually incorrect because the Musahar population in UP is only one-tenth of their population in Bihar. Secondly, I disagree with her interpretation of the word upwas, as the use of this term is not limited to the Musahars. Every community in this region uses the term upwas for a state of being on an empty stomach, no matter if it is because of hunger or spirituality, or for reasons of health.

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