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"Axom Deshor Bagisare Sowali": Tracing the History and Memory of Migration of Tea Plantation Labour through Jhumur Songs

Monday, November 27, 2023 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Talk by Devika Singh Shekhewat

'Axom Deshor Bagisare Sowali' attempts to trace the history and memory of the migration of tea plantation workers in Assam through music. The session would focus on Folk songs and music of plantation communities of Assam and engage with Jhumur songs as oral histories of various communities and tribes brought to Assam by the colonial project of growing tea. The talk engages with the memory of indenture among tea plantation workers and places the workers' role in shaping the history and culture seen in folk songs and music. The history of plantations in Assam has often been told through the colonial archives; the talk attempts to shift the conversation by exploring how memory, history, and identity are kept alive through Jhumur music, songs, and oral histories, which live as testimonies of the lives of tea plantation workers of Assam. The talk also traces the gendered, cultural, social, and economic politics in the migration history, which produced the fractured positionality of women tea plantation workers in Assam. Jhumur songs hold an important place in history as an oral tradition that tells the story of a community that has been long forgotten and sidelined. 

Devika Singh Shekhawat is a writer, educator, and researcher from India. Her research interests lie at the intersection of gender and labor studies, public health, migration studies, and developmental issues. She is currently a joint Visiting Fulbright Fellow at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the South Asia Program at Cornell University. Her research explores how health and labor operate in the tea plantations of Assam. Her work engages with the nature of work, the production process that affects the health of the worker, and the conditions for ailments and diseases created for the worker within the plantation economy. She has written on the history and memory of indenture in tea plantations in Assam and published her work on the Ecological Crisis of Shrimp Aquaculture and discourses of migration and infiltration in Coastal Odisha. Devika has been a part of multiple projects that study the rural public healthcare infrastructure, ecological conservation, and labor relations in northeast India. She completed her Masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and her undergraduate studies in History and Political Science from St. Stephens College, University of Delhi. Devika is a current PhD research scholar at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University, New Delhi.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program


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