Garos aspiring migration and mobility in an ‘insecure’ Bangladesh

ABSTRACT

All around the world, people are exposed to information and imageries that may have been generated in far-away places, but by implication become part of their everyday lives.

These cultural imaginaries, whether ‘realistic’ or not, are widespread and have real-life consequences.

They do not only produce new self-images, aspirations and ideals, but also transform notions of (aspired) belonging and mobility.

In this article, we show how mobility (transnational connectivity, spatial, social and economic mobility) plays an important role in the everyday life and future aspirations of young members of the indigenous community of Garos in Bangladesh.

In the contemporary globalizing context of Bangladesh, young Garos have constructed aspirations which can no longer be fulfilled in their native villages.

With this case study of social and cultural meanings of mobility for indigenous youth, we also wish to contribute to a better understanding of past and present processes of social transformation amongst indigenous peoples in Bangladesh.

While previous studies of indigenous minorities in South Asia are characterized by a focus on stillness and stasis rather than change and mobility, this article calls for a differing approach in ethnographic research on ethnic minorities, one which recognizes the mobile and (globally) connected context and challenges dominant notions of ‘tribal’ or ‘indigenous’ communities as frozen in time and space.

Introduction

On an ordinary evening in February 2013, a group of Garo friends have gathered in a local tea stall in Birisiri, a bustling little border town in Bangladesh, to enjoy their daily cup of cha (tea) and to spend the evening chatting.

Birisiri’s local market Utrail bazar is lively and the air still and filled with the sounds of vendors and road traffic. The place, which can either be defined as a big village or a small town, is home to hundreds of Garos.

It is situated in Durgapur Upazila of Netrokona district at the border with the Indian state of Meghalaya, which is home to the majority of the same ‘imagined community’ of Garos.

Although load shedding is frequent, Birisiri stands out from surrounding villages because of its access to electricity and its direct bus connections to bigger cities such as Mymensing and to the capital city Dhaka.

The town also houses several schools, NGO’s, a Young Men’s Christian Association guest house, different Christian churches and a Tribal Cultural Academy.

In the tea stall, the conversation is moving from one topic to the next, and continues for hours. ‘National Geography and Discovery Channel are definitely my favourites!’ one of the girls cries out enthusiastically when the subject moves to their favourite television programmes. And her eyes begin to shine.

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