The Regional Identity Politics of India’s New Land Wars: Land, Food, and Popular Mobilisation in Goa and West Bengal

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Environmental Studies



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Environment and Planning A


India has over the recent decade witnessed a spate of land transfers as Special Economic Zones, extractive industries, or real estate dispossess farmers, land owners, and indigenous groups of their land. As a result, struggles over land have emerged with force in many locations, almost across India. Yet while the political economy and legal aspects of India’s new ‘land wars’ are well documented, the discourses and identities mobilised against large-scale forcible land transfers receive less scholarly attention. We suggest ‘the regional identity politics’ of India’s current land wars to explain the important role of place-based identities in garnering broad, public support for popular anti-dispossession movements. We explore how land, and its produce, are mobilised by anti-dispossession movements in the Indian states of Goa and West Bengal. The movements mobilised land and food not as emblematic of structural changes in the political economy, but first and foremost within a symbolic field in which they came to stand metaphorically for regional forms of belonging and identity under threat. While reinforcing regional solidarity, these identities also contributed to the fragmented and often highly localised nature of India’s current land wars, while also potentially disrupting efforts to sustain organising in the long term.


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