Modern South Asia Seminar Series

From Peasant to Entrepreneur: Development, Education and Farming in Northeast India

Lecture by Dr. Sanjay Barbora (Tata Institute for Social Science).

Drinks afterwards.

Across the uplands of Northeast India, as well as in mountainous countries in the neighbourhood, such as Bhutan and Nepal, one sees a concerted effort by different national and regional governments to address the plight of the marginal farmer or peasant who owns (or has access to) some private or communal land. Various governmental schemes and subsidies have been initiated to ensure that falling returns from agriculture are mitigated by other ways of earning a livelihood. The farmer/peasant – terms that I shall use interchangeably, but with caution, as they underscore both work and ownership of land in this region – has been a paradoxical figure of hope and despair for governments in modern times. For one, they have been the source of much political posturing, where national political elites, scientists and industry have taken up their cause. Yet, they have also been subjected to intense policy pressure to get them to think differently and pull themselves out of their poverty. There is, therefore, an increasing demand for the peasant and farmer to prepare for radical changes in their livelihoods and way of thinking. In my talk, I draw from fieldwork conducted in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland (in India) and partly in Bhutan, to look at the ways in which a new discourse of entrepreneurship has become so important for understanding social and economic transformations in the uplands of Northeast India.

Dr. Sanjay Barbora is a sociologist and he teaches at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, India. He has been associated with the human rights movement in Assam since the 1990s and worked on issues pertaining to agrarian change, trade unions and settler-indigenous conflicts in Northeast India. He is currently examining environmental conflicts arising out of human - animal relations in Assam's wildlife parks.

The MSAS lecture series is organised with the support of IIAS, LIAS, AMT and CA/DS.