Date: 8 March 2022


Land as property carries varied interpretations among different communities around the world; this is evident in India too. This epistemic difference, however often suffers selective amnesia when it comes to framing ‘development’ by the state and its practitioners. So although the land question continues to be an inescapable part of our transformation from agricultural to non-agricultural practices, unwillingness to factor in the varied interpretations on land as property generates dislocations and gives rise to a distraught identity to the communities undergoing such changes. This is also evident among agriculture based communities, who shifts from food grains to mono crop horticultural practices. In social sciences however, more than often, we are attuned to ‘look’ into such scenarios with a bifocal vision i.e. while the production relations undergoes changes due to changing interpretation of land as property and an accompanying changes in land use pattern, the communities experiencing such changes are sought to be interpreted as if they remain fixated in a pristine past, unaffected by market forces of contemporary times. This often leads to a myopic, if not a unilinear vision, on space, place and community/people.

The idea therefore is to deliberate on similar scenarios in Northeast India, where interpretation of land as property and land use changes are inseparably associated with the aspects of belongingness and rootedness to the region. While the state and development practitioners aspire to bring in elements of fixity to life and livelihood practices of the communities inhabiting the region, their historico-geographical practices often escapes such a vision. The hills and the floodplains in Northeast India largely points to such a direction. While the hills, which have been historically attuned to the community custodianship of land under different varieties of chieftainship and customary laws, they have been affected by the introduction of positive laws; the floodplains, on the other, has been kept outside of a legible proprietary right system by the state. These certainly adversely affect the ground realities in Northeast India. On top of it, an unending scenario of ‘encompassment’ and ‘closure’, what the state refers as the ‘rituals of citizenship’, add further criticalities to the questions related to land, ownership and belongingness in the region. Analysing these issues along with the accompanying epistemic gaps therefore may enrich our vision of development concerning NEI.


Dr. Gorky Chakraborty works on issues relating to development and land in Northeast India. Based at Institute of Development Studies Kolkata, he has published widely in several journals and books. His seminal work based on his doctoral research, Assam's Hinterland: Society and Economy in the Char Areas made an important contribution to the understanding of questions of land and development in the Char areas of Assam. Since then he has published on India's Look East Policy, Common Property Resources and Communal Land in Northeast India and more recently on water conflicts in Northeast India.