Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Aarti Sethi — Mahadev's Gift: Men, Bullocks and the Community of Cultivation in Central India

Thursday, March 14, 2019

12:00pm – 1:30pm

Room 110, Stephen Robert Hall '62

Aarti Sethi is an anthropologist who works on the economic and social life of debt in rural India. Her current book project examines farmer suicides in Vidharba, central India, to argue that the destructive psycho-social force of transgenic cotton cultivation in peasant communities emerges from the financialization of social obligation. With the large-scale adoption of hybrid cotton-seeds, monetary debt now travels through networks of kin, clan and caste reciprocity, transforming customary understandings of status, honor and mutuality in village societies. She is also currently working on a project called 'The Crops of Capital' that examines the centrality of agrarian transformation and agriculture not as vestigial but as central to the emergence of modern industrial capitalisms. Sethi has published and has ongoing interests in south Asian visual and media cultures, urban history, particularly cinema and circuits of spectatorship.

Over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide across India since 1995, the majority of deaths concentrated in central India’s cotton belt. Scholarly consensus views suicides amongst the peasantry as debt-induced responses to monetary debt spirals attendant on transgenic cotton cultivation. Sethi's book project titled, Kapsi Mata — Cotton Fever in Central India, demonstrates that with the emergence of cash-debt as an essential component of the productive process, differentiated interest rates have become the mediumof negotiating social and familial proximity. She ethnographically traces the force of debt as social obligation and the imbrication of modes of production with symbolic cultural life. Sethi earned her PhD from Columbia University and holds an MA in Political Science from the University of Delhi and an MPhil in Cinema and Cultural Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is a founding member of kafila.online and on the editorial board of New Text, a copyleft academic publishing house based in New Delhi.