Indigenous routes: migration and food sovereignty in northeast India


Taking cue from James Clifford’s notion of ”routes” as involving both travel and dwelling, I will concentrate on two recent and contradictory phenomenon in Northeast India; 1) the outmigration of indigenous youths and, 2) the revival of indigenous food systems. In doing so, I will draw on the findings of a recently completed research project presented in the book Leaving the Land: Indigenous migration and affective labour in India (2019), co-authored with anthropologist Dolly Kikon, and a new project on food sovereignty in Eastern Himalaya. The migrant youth we met expressed a desire for a life outside of subsistence agriculture, to earn money and see the world. The new service economy in metropolitan India provided a possibility for salaried work. Those that had left their villages and small towns in Northeast India nevertheless expressed a deep commitment to their ethnic homelands and the political struggle for rights to ancestral land in the hills. As we propose in the new project, along with this, there is also a general move towards what we call “sovereignty from within” that is centred around indigenous agriculture and food. This latter turn involves a renewed interest in traditional plants and crops – varieties that also often turn out to be more climate resilient – and an appreciation of indigenous agricultural knowledge and ethnic cuisines. The Covid-19 crises is a painful reminder of the extreme vulnerability of present economy and society. Many Northeastern migrants have lost their jobs in restaurants and five-star hotels and returned to their home places. This, we believe, will further enhance the strive to build indigenous sovereignty from within.

Contact us for more info about the Summer School

Get in touch