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A reservation “success story” from Rajasthan.
Megan Moodie, University of California, Santa Cruz Department of Anthropology.
mmoodie@ucsc.edu.

Recent years have seen the issue of reservations come to the fore of political debates in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan. While the issue of inclusion vs. exclusion in the official Scheduled Tribe (ST) category remains central, much discussion is also focused on the so-called problem of the “creamy layer.” This paper argues that media, scholarly, and legal reflections on the creamy layer actively exclude ST voices and thus entail basic misunderstandings about the (im)possibilities of upward mobility in contemporary India. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with urban segments of the Dhanka, a relatively small ST community in Rajasthan, I raise questions about the assumptions underlying creamy layer rhetoric, focusing especially on the way in which creamy layer narratives imply a teleology of upward mobility that is increasingly untenable in light of neoliberal economic and social policies. In Jaipur City, Dhanka men have successfully availed themselves of the benefits of reservations in the Public Health and Engineering Department; the stability of government postings has allowed them to improve the infrastructure of their neighborhood and garner political support from elected officials. However, with the increasing privatization of utilities in the city, younger men of the community are now unable to find government posts. Further, women and girls have rarely been encouraged to pursue education or employment via reservations. Thus, the case of the Dhanka challenges implicit notions about the stability of upwardly mobile communities and points to important gendered differences in the structure of even successful “tribal uplift.”

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