The passion to serve! Endowing and praising indigenous youth with the quality of service, with a predisposition to hospitality and care – is it truly appreciation of a culture, its people and a way of life? In global India, marketing soft skills has become synonymous with training indigenous migrants to work in the hospitality industry. The state that kept them at its margins, now prepares to make them servers; a development dictated by the market and neoliberal economy that sells service as part of a package to experience luxury, class and sophistication.
Our book, Leaving the Land: Indigenous Migration and Affective Labour in India, discusses the collusion of state, industry and indigeneity. We trace how indigenous migrants are trained to serve in the hospitality industry and follow their experiences. As we underline in the book, we examine how indigenous migrants are on a path of ‘wayfinding’ – a manner of moving about in the world without having a definite destination. This kind of mobility, we underline, is shaped by the militarization of their homelands and the increasing loss of land and practices of subsistence cultivation.
From grooming classes to the bars and dining sites where they work as servers, we encountered how notions of caring for their customers and longing for the family they have left behind created anxieties and aspirations. We heard from mothers as they worried and waited for the safety of their children in cities. A phone call? A message? The lives of indigenous youth and the gruelling workhours in cities and disruptive life pattern in villages exposes the facade of glamour that luxury high-end services portrays. Many of them yearn to come back and own a piece of land although they are unsure about returning to their villages. Set on a path to seek opportunities and see the world, indigenous migrants from Northeast India force us to recognize the experiences of indigenous lives in global India as an important lens to understand new forms of inequality and anxieties in twenty first century India.
It is incumbent on us to understand what is being erased and silenced through the aggressive development initiatives and mainstreaming across Northeast India. The movement for the right to self-determination, armed conflict, counterinsurgency, secret killings, Look (Act) East Policy, and the ongoing ceasefire negotiations; these developments show how the past shapes the aspirations and anxieties about the future in the region. As we highlight in this ethnography, the ongoing political processes deeply impact the lives of young indigenous migrants and will continue to do so. Our story about leaving the land and the experiences of the indigenous migrants present the ever-changing relationship between the Indian state and its indigenous population. We demystify the world of hospitality through the eyes of indigenous migrants and highlight how under challenging circumstances, they are determined to forge new possibilities.
About the Author:
Dolly Kikon teaches at the School of Social and Political Sciences, the University of Melbourne. Her research focusses on the political economy of extractive resources, development initiatives, gender relations, customary law, and human rights in Northeast India. Apart from publishing with various journals, she has also authored Life and Dignity: Testimonies of Sexual Violence in Dimapur (Nagaland) (2015) & Living with Oil and Coal: Resource Politics and Militarization in Northeast India (2019).
Bengt G. Karlsson is Professor of Anthropology at Stockholms Universitet. He has been a committee member of the Swedish Research Council and is a working member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. His research and work addresses the larger issues of society–environment interface, with particular focus on the politics of ethnicity and environment in India. Apart from publishing with various journals and contributing in edited volumes, he has also authored Unruly Hills: A political Ecology of India’s Northeast (2011).