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Witches, Tea Plantations, and Lives of Migrant Laborers in India:
Tempest in a Teapot
by Soma Chaudhuri
Witches, Tea Plantations and Lives of Migrant laborers in India: Tempest in a Teapot is the first systematic book length project on the topic of contemporary witch hunts in Sociology, and on India. Bringing together a holistic theoretical perspective drawing from sociology, anthropology, and post colonial history, Chaudhuri argues that witchcraft accusations among the adivasi worker communities in the tea plantations of Jalpaiguri, India, are a protest against the plantation management. Thus the witchcraft accusations are not a performance of “exotic and primitive rituals of a backward” adivasi community during times of stress, but rather can be interpreted as a powerful protest organized by a marginalized community against its oppressors. The typical avenues of social protest are often unavailable to marginalized workers due to lack of resources, organizational and political representation, a situation that is similar across plantation workers globally. The book illuminates how witchcraft accusations should be interpreted within the backdrop of labor-planters relationship, characterized by rigidity of power, patronage, and social distance. A complex network of relationships—ties of friendship, family, politics, and gender—provide the necessary legitimacy for the witch hunt to take place. At the height of the conflict, the exploitative relationship between the plantation management and the adivasi migrant workers often gets hidden, and the dain (witch) becomes a scapegoat for the malice of the plantation economy.