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Elephant in the Town


Elephant in the town: Conservation, urbanisation and development in Assam



In the past five years in Assam, more people have been killed in encounters with elephants and other wildlife, than as a result of political violence. This particular fact stands out as a matter of concern for social scientists and activists, for the state has had unprecedented episodes of conflicts arising out of demands for autonomy and social justice since the 1980s. There have been several transformative political, social and economic processes following the commencement of counter-insurgency operations against left-wing separatist rebels in 1990 by the Indian army. This period has seen a corresponding rise in rural-urban migration in the state that in turn has affected political discourse in the region. In my talk, I argue that the current animal-human encounters leading to deaths (of both species) marks a seamless shift in the counter-insurgency theatre and raises deeper questions about economic equity, social justice and development in contemporary Assam.



Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora is a sociologist who teaches at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati Campus). His academic research areas of interest include migration, agrarian change, conservation, trade union issues, media studies and human rights. His forthcoming book "Homeland Insecurities: Conflict, Autonomy and Migration in Assam" looks at the intersections of political mobilisation for social justice and autonomy, the rise of state violence and emergence of alternative political voices that seek to transform militarised landscapes (in Assam). Barbora frequently writes for academic and popular journals, as well as for dailies and online magazines. He remains committed to promoting community radio stations in India (much to the amusement of colleagues, students and friends).

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