In the Bhil and Girassia “tribal” regions of Udaipur district, Rajasthan, police officers, doctors, and tribal leaders conduct autopsies in front of the entire village. Police officers explained that in the context of uncertain and volatile tribal customary practices, a public autopsy provides certainty. The doctor’s evidence from a specific organ determines how the death should be officially registered and whether the tribal custom of mautana (blood money) should ensue. This article follows the ways in which anthropologists show how organs and blood are excorporated, or given over, for the demands of the constitution of a social form such as the nation, civil society, or family. Anthropologists argue that such excorporations are distinct from Marcel Mauss’s concept of the gift as there is no reciprocity. I draw on my observations of tribal politics during and after two public autopsies where organs are publicly revealed and excorporated. The first autopsy demonstrates how a tribal leader excorporated his deceased neighbor’s organ for his participation in democratic politics. In the events after the second autopsy tribal leaders doubted the doctor’s evidence from the organ that led to a series of panchayat (village council) meetings. During these meetings, which spanned a year and a half, doubt, irresolution, and uncertainty, mediated by custom, revealed the potentialities of tribal politics in the context of precarity and histories of violence. Here the lines between excorporation, the gift, and the countergift are blurred suggesting how public autopsies can revise tribals’ relationship with the state.
Speaker: Dr. Devika Bordia, Associate Professor, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence
Venue: South Asian University
Date: 3 MAY, 2023. WEDNESDAY. 2 PM