Indigenous communities worldwide are particularly vulnerable to the threat of Covid-19. Thus far, indigenous communities in India have been relatively insulated from the pandemic due to their distance from urban centers, where most cases are concentrated, and their low population densities. However, the situation has been complicated by the announcement of the world’s largest lockdown in March 2020, sparking a mass reverse migration of migrant laborers from Covid-19-affected cities back to their villages. Since a large percentage of indigenous people in India engage in migrant labor, the return of migrant laborers en masse has potentially serious economic and epidemiological consequences for rural, and highly under-resourced indigenous communities. This project seeks to assess the effects of lockdown-induced reverse migration on indigenous communities in real time. The project is focused around two central issues. The first is to document the relations between village residents and returning migrants in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, it will examine how residents draw on indigenous ethical conceptions of insider/outsider and local understandings of disease and contagion to exclude or re-integrate migrants back into the villages and the migrant response to such efforts. Secondly, the project will assess the economic consequences of the government’s lockdown on indigenous villages, particularly in light of the drying up of remittance money from migrant labor, the extra population burden, and the disruption of supply chains. The project will employ ethnographic observation through the recruiting of local research assistants supplemented with analysis of media and policy reports.
Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology–Gandhinagar