Conference Proceeding

Crafting Criminality: Into a Magical Dystopia with Delinquent Objects



The vivid social lives of street magicians’ paraphernalia narrate the conflicts that threaten their artform today. Here, we attend to the movements of the Maseit street magician’s objects to map the incursion of globalization and state oppression into their lifeworlds in Kathputli Colony, Delhi. Street magic, until 2018, was criminalized as begging under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act. We examine how the rule of law inflicts routine violence on the Maseit and how the magicians in turn internally sabotage the everyday framework of legality. The first part focuses on the magician’s props to unpack the brutal legacy of subordination perpetuated via legal and extralegal means. The second part describes the magician’s and his things’ alternation between ritual and commodity forms. We then investigate the changes in the Maseit’s kinship structure and gendered division of labor that taking their performance to the stage has propelled. These accounts of disenfranchisement and marginalization reveal the dystopic condition of subalternity where the Maseit’s repression becomes a necessary exercise of neutralizing suspect bodies to sustain the mass’s trust in law’s promises of freedom and rights.

Keywords: subaltern, globalization, Maseit, postcolonial

How to Cite: Bhagabati, D. S. (2021) “Crafting Criminality: Into a Magical Dystopia with Delinquent Objects”, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. 21(1). doi: