Indian Institute of Technology–Gandhinagar (India)


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.

Principal Investigator

Nishaant Choksi

Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology–Gandhinagar

I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Kyoto University in Japan. Currently, I am an assistant professor of social sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, India. My research areas include the study of script and writing systems, language and performance, the aesthetic component of language, cultural politics of heritage, and issues of self-governance and livelihood. I examine these themes mainly with respect to the situation of Adivasi communities of India, with whom I have been conducting ethnographic research for almost two decades. Ongoing field projects include work with Bhili speakers in eastern Gujarat, Mundari speakers in Jharkhand, Santali speakers in West Bengal, and collaborative projects with communities in Northeastern India. I have published articles in several peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Modern Asian Studies, Language and Society, and South Asian History and Culture.