Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Recalcitrant Lifeworlds of a Tree

I study a tree called the Jri Bamon that grows in the political borderlands of India and Bangladesh. The Jri Bamon was identified as a 'rubber tree' in 1810 by colonial botanists of nineteenth- century British India, who after being unsuccessful in extracting latex from it in the plantations of Assam, discarded it as a 'failed crop'. However, in the hills of Meghalaya in present-day India, near the international borders of Bangladesh, the tree holds socio-ecological significance as a 'living root bridge'. The living root bridges are structures made by local communities, who ethnically identify themselves as Khasi, by weaving the aerial roots of the Jri Bamon across rivers and gorges. Many of these bridges have existed for more than 200 years, and form part of a generations old network through which people and goods [both legal and contraband] move across the deep gorges of Meghalaya hills, into the unfenced floodplains of Bangladesh. Through ethnographic and archival research, my project studies the socio-ecological and political significance of the Jri Bamon's conversion from a 'failed' rubber crop in the colonial plantations of nineteenth-century British India into the animated living root bridges of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya. In doing so, I ask the overarching question: How do human-plant relations articulated in indigenous ways of being subvert modernist regimes of control that rest on a clear distinction between categories like 'culture'- 'nature', 'subject'- 'object', 'human'- 'nonhuman', 'national'- 'foreign'? I hypothesize that there is a recalcitrance to the material growth pattern of the Jri Bamon, which although incomprehensible to the British botanists, was legible to the Khasi communities who harnessed it to resist the incorporation of their 'planthuman' worlds [Haraway 2008] into the colonial plantation epistemic and to subvert the rigid political borders of the nation-state.