Accepted paper:

Indigenous communities, hydropower projects, and the Indian state: critical reflections on Northeast India


Vibha Arora (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

Paper short abstract:

The paper highlights the development encounter between a hydrosocial Indian state, affected indigenous communities, and hydroscapes in North-east India.

Paper long abstract:

A flowing river is a hydroscape of livelihood, rituals and identity, cultural politics and development resistance, affect and emotions for many indigenous communities in India and South Asia. While the Indian state regards rivers to be largely (not exclusively) as a productive resource for irrigation, generating employment and augmenting revenue, a useful waterway for reducing transportation costs, and a renewable source of energy (hydropower) to cater to rapidly growing expanding market economy. The development approach of an active Hydrosocial Indian state is outlined in its policy document North-east Vision 2020, wherein the region is being projected as India's future energy storehouse. More than 160 small and large hydropower projects are upcoming or planned on different waterscapes traversing the ethnically heterogeneous eight states of North-east India. This explains why matters of ecology and river flows, ethnic identity and hydropower projects, relief and rehabilitation of affected communities, and political economy are interconnected in the political ecology of North-east India's rivers and states. This paper draws upon extended fieldwork documenting the voices of all stake-holders, a review of relevant literature on protest movements and people's resistance, and a critical analysis of secondary data to highlight the development encounter between a hydrosocial Indian state, affected communities, and hydroscapes. The argument highlights the contradictions within the trope of sustainable or green development, and its effective use as a discursive tool to delegitimize local resistance of affected communities in the name of national development.

panel P14
Hydroscapes and hydrosocial states: culture and the political ecology of water governance