Accepted Paper:

Dam(ning) North-East India for national development  


Vibha Arora (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

Paper short abstract:

Tribal communities in Sikkim and Manipur in Northeast India perceive hydropower projects as a disguise of an exploitative national development paradigm that will vanquish them.

Paper long abstract:

Dams have generated local opposition and fuelled social conflict between a developmentally minded state and affected local communities. In 2002 the Department of Development of the North Eastern Region (DONER) openly declared that the Northeast has the potential to be India's future powerhouse. The hydropower initiative for North-east India looks very promising on 'paper' and especially when seen from the power generation and revenue earning point of view. This explains why Sikkim and Manipur have adopted a hydraulic development model for generating funds for their human development.

Baviskar (1995) and Arora (2006, 2009) argue that rivers are not merely water courses, but embody the spiritual connections between people and their 'ancestral' landscape. Using two cases studies of indigenous resistance to the Teesta hydropower projects in Sikkim (2007 onwards) and the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur (2003 onwards), I highlight how tribal communities have embraced environmentalism and used the metaphor of cultural roots and ancestral connections with their land and rivers oppose hydropower projects that will displace, marginalize, severe their connections with their historic landscapes and adversely impact their livelihood. From the activist perspective, hydropower projects are not conceptualized to deliver promised development, but become a disguise of an exploitative national development paradigm that aims to strike at the roots of their indigenous identity and vanquish them.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance