Williem and his friends in Bangalore

Anthropologists Dolly Kikon and Bengt G. Karlsson collaborated with photographer Andrzej Markiewicz to trace the lives and lifeworlds of indigenous migrants who have travelled from the Northeastern frontier of India to the expanding cities of South India. This movement does not involve the crossing of any international border, yet both geographically and culturally it is a journey into a very different place. It is a movement away from predominantly rural livelihoods with subsistence agriculture and politics revolving around ethnic homelands, with armed struggles and massive human rights violations and a corrupt local state structure, to a life in major Indian cities, where migrants are seen as outsiders, yet where their un-Indian looks and English language skills helps provide jobs in the growing, global service sector.

The photo-series is part of a larger anthropological research project by Dolly Kikon and Bengt G. Karlsson examining why an increasing number of indigenous youth from Northeast India have started to migrate, leaving the land, at this particular point of time. This mobility has to be understood in the context of an affirmative action regime and a political culture that privilege sedentarism, that is, that people stay put in place and claim rights to ancestral territories.

The research focusses on what labour migration to the south and to the metropolis entails in relation to care for family members and community in the hills. By doing so, it aims to assess the cultural fissures at work in people’s attachment to the places of their journeys. The young indigenous migrants seem to be out on a migration route without fixed destinations, struggling to make out what and where home is.This is wayfinding: a voyage without a map or beaten paths or pathways to follow and with no clear destination or end station, but rather as a form of movement where the traveller constantly adjusts the direction, seeking out new places and possibilities as he or she is moving on. And as the young are leaving – no longer interested in cultivating the land – asking what the future holds for the indigenous communities of Northeast India. Raiot Webzine thanks Beppe Karlsson for the permission to publish this series.

Williem and his friends in Bangalore

Bangalore is the main node for Northeastern youths in South India. We followed Williem and his friends who are working in a combined hair saloon and spa in a fashionable suburb. They are all from various parts of Northeast India, sharing a flat in Ejipura, a part of Bangalore where many Northeasterners live. Williem had not learned the local language, but only spoke in English with clients. He eventually hoped to be able to go abroad, preferably to the US.


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