ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Swidden Farming among the Yimchunger Nagas

The Politics of Swidden Farming: Environment and Development in Eastern India by Debojyoti Das, London and New York: Anthem Press, 2018; pp 272, £70 (Hardback).

This book offers a sociopolitical ecology of swidden agriculture (jhum) among the Yimchunger Nagas. Debojyoti Das, the author of this book, throws into focus the dialectic between jhumming as a cultural lifestyle and jhumming as a presumed marker of backwardness in need of amelioration. Jhum cultivation has, indeed, long recei­ved bad press, especially from statist epistemology that sees its practice not only as ecologically damaging and economically unrewarding, but also its practitioners as difficult to control and ­govern. Both colonial and postcolonial governments, this book illustrates, have long sought to dissuade Naga villagers from jhumming and to make them take up settled agriculture, horticulture, and plantation cropping.

While this attempted shift is deemed justified in the name of science and deve­lopment, in actual reality, Das ­posits, it is driven by political expediency. This argument, which is the book’s main proposition, is hardly original, as James Scott (2009) influentially typified swidden agriculture as “escape agriculture,” as its mobility, dispersal, the inaccessible terrain and social fragmentation worked to keep tax-hungry states away. However, showing the precise ways through which eventual state enclosure unfolded, and the role of state-directed agrarian changes in this process, merits historical and ethnographic study in particular settings.

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Updated On : 28th May, 2020

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