Bablu Chakma is a PhD candidate in International Development Studies at the Institute of Development Research and Development Policy (IEE), Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. His current study focuses on survival strategies, social movements and identity politics of Tanchangya peasants. His interests include human rights advocacy and activism, social movements, identity politics and indigenous people’s issues in general. Mr. Chakma comes from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh and belongs to the Chakma indigenous group.
Revisiting Moral Economy in the Context of Tanchangya Peasants in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
This paper examines the survival strategies of Tanchangya baor pada or culantro (eryngium foetidum) cultivators of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh in the context of the ongoing rapid transformation towards capitalism. The main focus is on the constant manoeuvring of peasant households for their present survival as well as better future. Thereby, it puts particular emphasis on how locality, kinship and a membership-based traditional social structure named samaj shape individual peasant struggle. In doing so, I utilise two main propositions of the moral economy model proffered by Scott (1976): the subsistence ethic, and the community redistributive arrangements that guarantee minimum subsistence to peasant families. Grounding my ethnographic study conducted in 2019 on Scott’s propositions, I put forward two arguments. First, while it is plausible that peasants tend not to put subsistence at risk, they are far from being conservative with regards to livelihood choices and strategies. Many peasants make use of flexible strategies in order not only to save family from going below the threshold of subsistence, but also to augment family resources so that future aspirations can be fulfilled. Second, the localised forms of redistributive arrangements are embedded in customs, kinship and other relationship networks of the peasant community that do not only provide them with insurance in extraordinary moments of life course (e.g. death, marriage and birth), but serve as protection rackets against the claimants of the family resources in quotidian peasant struggles. Thus, the paper shows that Tanchangya culantro cultivators continue to reproduce a localised form of moral economy even in times of domination of market economy.
Affiliation: Ruhr-University Bochum