After Coal: Indigenous mining and life outside neoliberal extractivism in India's northeastern borderlands

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7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Brunei Gallery

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Bengt G. Karlsson (Stockholm University)


This paper concern the mining of coal in Meghalaya, a small hill state in the north-eastern region of India. The extractive industries are largely in the hands of the indigenous elite, who have been able to accumulate massive wealth and, along with it, secure political power in the state. Pollution of water bodies and health hazards and risks for the mining labourers have pushed the Supreme Court to intervene and put a moratorium on the extraction of coal. This intervention divides the indigenous community: criticized by some as a violation of indigenous sovereignty and welcomed by others who take it as an invitation to build a sustainable future outside neoliberal extractivism. Women have been in the forefront of the anti-mining campaign, and the paper begin by narrating a recent event where two leading female activists were brutally attacked and left to die in a forest. An additional provocation with the anti-mining activists is that some of them also been outspoken against the attempt by male leaders to amend the traditional matrilineal kinship system and prevent indigenous women from marrying outsiders. As I will argue, in the combined protests one can detect what Ghassan Hage calls “alter-politics”, the contours of something radically different in the making.

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After Coal: Indigenous mining and life outside neoliberal extractivism in India's northeastern borderlands.


Bengt G. Karlsson is Professor of Anthropology at Stockholms University. He is mainly working on issues relating indigenous peoples and the society-environment interface, with particular focus on the politics of ethnicity and nature in India. He has recently completed a book on indigenous migration in India and is presently involved in a project on seeds and plants. He is the author of Contested Belonging: An Indigenous People’s Struggle for Forest and Identity in Sub-Himalayan Bengal (Routledge, 2000), Unruly Hills: A Political Ecology of India's Northeast (Berghahn Book, 2011), Leaving the Land: Indigenous Migration and Affective Labour in India (Cambridge University Press, 2019) co-authored with Dolly Kikon, and the edited volumes Indigeneity in India (Kegan Paul 2006, with Tanka B. Subba) and Geographies of Difference: Explorations in Northeast Indian Studies (Routledge, 2017, with M. Vandenhelsken and M. Barkataki-Ruscheweyh). Karlsson is member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.

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Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute and Centre of Law, Environment and Development

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