27 Oct 2017

Financial Superstitions

Paper presentation at the 46th Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, USA. Panel Title “Regulating Frontiers: Law Finance and Infrastructure in the South Asian Borderlands”

Aditi Saraf


In Kashmir, traders use the metaphor of “trust deficit” to describe a pervasive sense of mistrust and misgivings generated by political violence. Specifically, the phrase is voiced in the context of the Indian state’s military occupation, and in the studied avoidance of terms that hint towards non-formal market transactions. This paper examines the operation of trust-based credit networks amidst the trust deficit. Non-formal credit transactions structure everyday capital accumulation in the wholesale market, comprising promissory payments settled according vernacular codes and timelines. They are often viewed with deep suspicion outside their networks of circulation, particularly by the regulatory regimes of the state. In Kashmir, this suspicion acquires an added layer due to the association of informal credit with hawala transactions, viewed as one of the main sources for funding anti-India protests and militant activities. I follow the complex of informal credit systems as they play out in quotidian transactions of wholesale credit, alongside scandals that seek to expose, and restrain such putatively secret and illicit flows, such as the hawala scam of 1991, demonetization in 2016 and investigations into cross-border trade. Considering together their banal and scandalous aspects, I show how financial patterns at this disputed frontier testify to diverse autonomous trade arrangements coincident with prior forms of exchange and community disrupted by present day borders that they disrupt in turn.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
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