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Amitav Ghosh: The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis: Penguin Random House India, 2021

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BOOK REVIEW
Jindal Global Law Review
https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-022-00170-z
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1 Introduction
Last year, the Muteshekau Shipu (Magpie River) in Quebec, Canada, long cherished
by the Innu First Nations, was granted legal personhood.1 This case is part of a now
growing trend of cases around the world,2 where indigenous populations are using
various strategies3 to protect their ancestral lands and rivers as well as preserve their
cultural connections with nature. The intent of these cases, much of which stems
from indigenous ideas that challenge notions of nature as inert and reimagine exist-
ing categories of legal personhood, lies at the heart of Amitav Ghosh’s book—The
Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis.4
1 Joel Balsam, ‘In February, the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and the Minganie Regional County Munic-
ipality declared the Muteshekau Shipu (Magpie River) a Legal Person. How will it Help with Con-
servation?’ (The Globe and Mail, 19 December 2021). https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/
article-this-wild-river-in-quebec-is-now-considered-a-person-how-will-it-help/. Accessed 19 April 2022.
2 Case of the Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v Suriname, Judgment, Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Series C No. 309 (25 November 2015); Standing Rock Sioux Tribe et al. v US Army Corps. of Engineers
Civil Action 471 F. Supp. 3d 71 (D.D.C. 2020); Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement)
Act 2017 (NZ).
3 See Marie-Catherine Petersmann, ‘Contested Indigeneity and Traditionality in Environmental Liti-
gation: The Politics of Expertise in Regional Human Rights Courts’ (2021) 21(1) Human Rights Law
Review 132–156. The legal strategies are not without critique though. See, for instance, Mary E Whit-
tenmore, ‘Comment: The Problem of Enforcing Nature’s Rights under Ecuador’s Constitution: Why
the 2008 Environmental Amendments have no Bite’ (2011) 20 (3) Pacic Rim Law & Policy Journal
Association 659.
4 Amitav Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (Penguin Random House India
2021).
Accepted: 24 May 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) 2022
Amitav Ghosh: The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in
Crisis
Penguin Random House India, 2021
SurabhiSingh1
Surabhi Singh
surabhi1@jgu.edu.in
1 OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India
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As a work of creative non-ction, this book is not easily categorised. The book
takes forward concerns about the relationship between literature, history, ecology,
colonialism, migration and climate change that Ghosh inaugurated in The Great
Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.5 These concerns have also been
consistently addressed by Ghosh in his novels.6 Through a rich cultural and literary
history of colonialism in the Southeast Asian islands of Banda,7 and settler colonial-
ism in North America,8 Ghosh assembles a rich and layered context for the reader to
make sense of the ecological crisis of climate change in the present. In doing this,
Ghosh attempts to move the conversation away from the current hyper-technical and
scientic debate that focuses almost singularly on carbon emissions, their osetting,
glacial temperatures, and rising sea-levels. Instead, he asks the reader to reckon with
the past of colonial exploitation, and in this reckoning, as per Ghosh, lies a solution
to the crisis. This foregrounding helps Ghosh frame the current arguments on climate
change, which can be broadly divided into two—(i) who is responsible for the current
crisis of climate change that is aecting the entire planet, and (ii) what fundamental
changes can we make now to manage the crisis?
In answering the rst question, Ghosh takes on a deeply moral debate—or judge-
ment. Western ideals that look at the world as a ‘resource’,9 nature as ‘subdued and
cheap’,10 the planet as ‘inert’,11 and any indigenous ways of living as ‘savage’12 are
compellingly challenged. These Western ways of thinking,13 propagated consciously
by Western philosophers, thinkers, and politicians,14 and the Western ways of living,
in a fashion of consumeristic rapture that views nature as only a ‘resource’,15 are
linked to the current ecological crisis.
2 Telling stories of histories
Ghosh’s skills as a ction-writer and his academic training as an anthropologist set
the tone for Chapters 1–3 where he pieces together an account of what may have hap-
pened on the islands on Banda when the Dutch colonising forces set up their camps.
5 Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago
Press 2016).
6 See Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide (Harper Collins 2016); Amitav Ghosh, Gun Island (Penguin
Hamish Hamilton 2019); Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (Penguin India 2015); Amitav Ghosh, River of
Smoke (Murray 2011); Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire (Murray 2015).
7 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 5–47.
8 Ibid. 49–71.
9 Ibid. 73.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid. 37,76–77, 82–83.
12 Ibid. 82–83, 87.
13 Ghosh calls it an ‘ideology of conquest’ that became hegemonic in the West and spread to other ‘elites’
of the world. Ibid. 39.
14 See Ibid. 26, 37, 77–82.
15 Ibid. 37.
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Using the ‘nutmeg’ as matter and metaphor, a spice vied for by the Dutch (and much
of the Western world) but native only to Banda, Ghosh begins to tell the ‘story’ of
the genocide by the Dutch on the Banda islands16 and the ‘terraforming’ of erstwhile
pristine land and water, which sets the stage for the rest of the book. In Chapters 4 and
5 Ghosh continues the narrative of ‘terraforming’17—this time by Western colonial
forces in North America that obliterated almost an entire race and its way of living,
once again using facts but telling ‘stories’. This style re-emerges toward the end of
the book as well where, in Chapters 9 and 12, Ghosh, this time writing about the
clove, speaks of the fortication of the islands of Ternate and Tidore by the Portu-
guese.18 The material relied on by Ghosh for writing these Chapters is impressively
exhaustive in its breadth but it’s the style of reconstructing these events that makes
it unique. By partly ctionalising events, Ghosh is able to poignantly convey the
tragic nature of the massacres in both places. The unjustness of an empire annihilat-
ing a native population in another corner of the world is conveyed quite well by this
method of writing, as against just a description of facts would.
What Ghosh also seems to have done with these Chapters in terms of the narration
style is in sync with the politics he is espousing in the book—a politics of vitality,19
where the relationship between nature and human beings is not one of ownership but
of harmony and co-existence, where otherwise considered ‘inert objects’ such as the
nutmeg or the clove, are actors and alive.
Ghosh ties the events of the above Chapters in Chapter 6, labelling the ideas on
which the Western colonial forces were acting as those of ‘omnicide’20 that reinforced
and keep on perpetuating the idea of supremacy of the ‘White-Western man’.21 Here,
Ghosh does some astute commentary on how the Western politics of controlling the
savage continues today as part of a larger search for fossil fuels.
3 The ‘West’ and the ‘elites’
Continuing the narrative from colonialism and settler colonialism, Ghosh argues
across several Chapters that the reason for the intensication of the climate change
crisis is the bid to maintain geo-political structures of powers, continuing a neo-
colonial domination of the world by the ‘West’.22 For example, in Chapter 8, Ghosh
begins by shifting the argument on why the world is still dependent on polluting
fossil fuels, if energy derived from the sun, wind, or water is the better alternative in
16 Ibid. 23, 27–29. Ghosh insists on the use of the term ‘genocide’ to refer to the massacre on the Banda
islands. See Ibid. 42–43.
17 Ghosh borrows the term from works of science ction, claiming it is based in the settler-colonial expe-
rience of creating ‘Neo-Europes’ in the colonies that involves substantially altering the ecosystems and
landscapes of these colonies. See Ibid. 54–55.
18 See Ibid. 109–111.
19 See Ibid. 206–246.
20 Ibid. 75.
21 Ibid. 81.
22 Ibid. 120.
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every way. 23 He argues that fossil fuels reinforce structures of power and violence,
as demonstrated by the current ‘petrodollar’ regime in the world.24 (The petrodol-
lar regime is a system where any country must pay in US dollars to purchase oil, in
exclusion of any other currency).25
In the manner discussed above, all through the book, Ghosh has placed the respon-
sibility of the climate crisis in the world on the former colonial states, white and
‘developed’, all of which are located in the ‘West’, a term Ghosh employs often.
At some points, this responsibility for the climate crisis is also put on the ‘elites’,
particularly the ‘urban elites’ of other parts of the world—in Asia, Africa, and South
America.26
The above raises questions that are not answered in Ghosh’s book. For instance,
the reader may grapple with questions such as ‘what purpose do these broad catego-
ries of the ‘West’ and any ‘other’ serve?’ and how relevant is the West versus ‘other’
binary to contemporarily understand the climate crisis that we are in? The answers
to these questions are related to each other. For Ghosh, the two broad categories help
him place the moral responsibility of the climate crisis on the West, where through a
historical analysis of colonisation he locates the works of the Empire in current times.
Of course, this distinction is important27 as there are signicant structural socio-polit-
ical inequities between these categories to understand which Ghosh’s analysis is very
relevant. There are some issues with this though, which Ghosh does not suciently
engage with. Firstly, many scholars have argued that the ‘other’ has always been
understood and dened in relation to the ‘West’,28 where the former is not seen as a
free subject of thought or action.29 This, for example, allows the ‘West’ to dominate
production of knowledge in many areas,30 contributing to an almost deication of
the ‘West’ and deepening the legitimation for colonial domination. Considering how
colonisation is such a strong presence in the book, this issue deserved more attention
from Ghosh.
23 Ibid. 99–104.
24 Ibid. 105–107.
25 For more information, see Dr Ibrahim M Oweiss, ‘Petrodollars: Problems and Prospects’ (Address
before the Conference on The World Monetary Crisis Arden House, Columbia University, 1–3 March
1974). https://faculty.georgetown.edu/imo3/petrod/dene.htm. Accessed 19 April 2022.
26 See, for instance, Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 38, 167, 207.
27 For example, see Caroline Levander and Walter Mignolo, ‘Introduction: The Global South and World
Dis/Order’ (2011) 5(1) The Global South 1–11. The authors term the Global South as ‘The “Global South”
is not an existing entity to be described by dierent disciplines, but an entity that has been invented in the
struggle and conicts between imperial global domination and emancipatory and decolonial forces that do
not acquiesce with global designs’. See also, Anne Garland Mahler, ‘What/Where is the Global South?’
(Oxford Bibliographies in Literary and Critical Theory, 25 October 2017). https://www.oxfordbibliogra-
phies.com/view/document/obo-9780190221911/obo-9780190221911-0055.xml. Accessed 19 May 2022.
28 Levander and Mignolo, ‘Introduction’ (n 27) 4–5.
29 Edward Said, Orientalism (Routledge 1980) 11.
30 For example, see Francis Adyanga Akena, ‘Critical Analysis of the Production of Western Knowledge
and Its Implications for Indigenous Knowledge and Decolonization’ (2012) 43(6) Journal of Black Studies
599–619.
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Second, these distinctions of West vs ‘other’ may tend to obscure important
socio-economic realities within these categories.31 For example, with the increased
entrenchment of neo-liberalism, the Western nations cannot be considered to be
homogenous in their demography, culture, politics, or patterns of consumption. There
is an increasing class and income disparity in most Western countries,32 which are
made complex by race, gender, immigration, and other social factors. Ghosh dis-
cusses this to some extent in the book where he mentions the disproportionate impact
of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of the rst nations and the black population
in the USA, caused by ‘systemic neglect’.33 Further, a similar divide exists now in
non-western nations with poverty and unemployment rising steeply, exacerbated by
the pandemic, while the incomes of the richest rise.34 The latter are perhaps what
Ghosh means by the ‘urban elites’, but this is not discussed or explored in the book
and remains a conceptual gap in Ghosh’s argument. The book would certainly have
benetted from literature on the growing class of ‘elites’ around the world, a ‘gold
class’ of billionaires who only protect their own interests, often at the expense of
others.35 One gets a glimpse of this in the book where Ghosh discusses how inequity
is rampantly present in nations such as India and Brazil and that it is a predictor of
likely impact of disasters such as the pandemic.36 But this conversation is not carried
forward to discuss the dimensions of the climate change crisis with these internal
inequities.
This brings us to the ‘West’ versus ‘other’ debate in the climate change context.
Generally, a lot is said and written about the high per capita carbon emissions from
countries such as the US, China, and Russia,37 primarily how the average person
in these countries consumes much more energy than peoples in any other part of
31 See, for example, Johanna Bockman, ‘Neoliberalism’ (2013) 12(3) Contexts 14–15.
32 See ‘Executive Summary: World Inequality Report 2022’ (World Inequality Lab, 2022). https://
wir2022.wid.world/executive-summary/. Accessed 2 May 2022. The Report states that in Europe, the top
10% income share is around 36%, whereas in the Middle East and North Africa, it reaches 58%. In East
Asia, the top 10% makes 43% of total income, and in Latin America, 55%. See also Wid.World, ‘Global
Inequality Data – 2020 Update’ (World Inequality Database, 10 November 2020). https://wid.world/news-
article/2020-regional-updates/. Accessed 4 May 2022.
33 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 140–142.
34 See World Inequality Report 2022 (n 32). See also Jagriti Chandra, ‘Indian Billionaires Increased
their Wealth by 35% during the Lockdown, says Oxfam Report’ (The Hindu, 25 January 2021).
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/oxfam-study-shows-rich-got-richer-during-pandemic/arti-
cle61737087.ece. Accessed on 4 May 2022; https://www.oxfam.org/en/brazil-extreme-inequality-
numbers#:~:text=Brazil%20is%20decades%20away%20from,as%20the%20remaining%2095%20
percent. Accessed 04 May 2022.
35 See Peter Goodman, Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World (Custom House Publica-
tions 2022); Oxfam International, ‘The Inequality Virus – Global Report 2021’ (Oxfam International,
January 2021). https://d1ns4ht6ytuzzo.cloudfront.net/oxfamdata/oxfamdatapublic/2021-01/The%20
Inequality%20Virus%20-%20Global%20Report%20%282021%29-3.pdf?N03OMRi1S_PWAiXig-
7D34AiDJ6ibPSOP. Accessed 1 May 2022.
36 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 140–142.
37 Graham Mott, Carlos Razo, and Robert Hamwey, ‘Carbon Emissions Anywhere Threaten Development
Everywhere’ (UNCTAD, 2 June 2021). https://unctad.org/news/carbon-emissions-anywhere-threaten-
development-everywhere. Accessed 20 April 2022.
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the world.38 Most international laws and policies on climate change are geared to
get Western nations to reduce their carbon emissions by focusing on past emissions.
Leaning into this, Ghosh’s argument about the history of colonial extractive violence
places a moral responsibility on the West to lead by example such that its ‘resonances
would be felt everywhere’.39 A problem here is that this issue of generational justice
can also sometimes dominate the narrative,40 in eect absolving the ‘other’ nations
from looking inwards. For example, carbon emissions from Brazil, Russia, India,
Indonesia, China and South Africa are expected to account for most of the global
increase of carbon emissions over the next three decades.41 The Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report reveals that even in the
‘other’ countries, it is the richest households which have a disproportionately large
share of carbon emissions.42 Considering it is these countries, with warm tropical and
sub-tropical climates, that suer more generally and will continue to suer more with
rising temperatures, this is an important conversation missing from the book. Ghosh
only alludes to this in parts where, for example, he writes of the high fossil fuel con-
sumptions by the rapidly growing militaries of India, China, Saudi Arabia and how
this, like the US’s military growth, will contribute to rapid climate change.43 But, as
stated above, a larger discussion on internal inequities, entrenched by neoliberalism,
is missing.
3.1 Fossil fuels and the military-industrial complex
The reference to increased militarisation and its consumption of fossil fuels is dis-
cussed in Chapters 9–10. Here, Ghosh argues how the Western colonial project of
the past is linked to increased Western militarisation at strategic places in the present
and how control of fossil fuel sources as well as their transportation is its contempo-
rary manifestation.44 This leads to some of the strongest arguments and exhaustively
researched parts of this book. In Chapter 10, Ghosh shows how the steep rise in con-
sumption of polluting fossil fuels since World War II45 has made the military forces
38 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC. Accessed 20 April 2022; Todd Moss, ‘Global
Energy Inequality Goes Deeper Than Bitcoin’ (The Medium, 10 September 2019). https://onezero.medium.
com/global-energy-inequality-goes-deeper-than-bitcoin-dfd058c31330. Accessed 20 April 2022.
39 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 160. Here, Ghosh is writing about how increased urbanisation on
the Indonesian islands of Ternate has caused the abundant clove trees to slowly wither away and die. On
interviewing the locals, Ghosh nds that the constant argument is that the West has used and consumed
resources for so long, why should the ‘others’ not catch up.
40 Sinan Ulgen, ‘How Deep is the North–South Divide on Climate Negotiations’ (Carnegie Europe, 6
October 2021). https://carnegieeurope.eu/2021/10/06/how-deep-is-north-south-divide-on-climate-negoti-
ations-pub-85493. Accessed 5 May 2022.
41 https://www.oecd.org/environment/cop21-climate-change-in-gures.htm. Accessed 5 May 2022.
42 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change’
(Working Group III Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022) 10. https://report.
ipcc.ch/ar6wg3/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf. Accessed 5 May 2022.
43 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 123.
44 Ibid. 107–110.
45 Ibid. 122.
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of the world some of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and greatest producers of
hazardous waste.46 The above discussion in the book reveals a rather cyclical nature
of Western hegemony—where fossil fuels are needed to ensure dominance, and dom-
inance is ensured through controlling fossil fuels. However, little information and
research on this issue exists as per Ghosh,47 since much of the current international
legal framework on climate change does not make it mandatory for states to provide
this information. (The legal framework is discussed in detail in Chapter 12).48 There-
fore, making this narrative and data available to the reader, and in such an accessible
jargon-less format, is a key achievement of the book.
4 Our shared beliefs and responsibilities
4.1 Science and Empire
In Chapter 7, for the rst time, Ghosh puts forth a challenge to the sciences’ knowl-
edge monopoly over any discussions on the planet and the crisis of climate change.
He goes so far as to claim that science has enabled the imperialists in viewing the
Earth’s objects as resources, by classifying, giving them consistent names, and dis-
counting any other methods of knowing these objects.49 In doing so, as per Ghosh,
science and Empire are the ‘cause and eect of one another’.50 In Chapter 12, Ghosh
goes on to explain how the current debate on climate change is framed in a highly
techno-economic sense,51 making it a specialised eld of knowledge located within
Western institutions of learning.52 Ghosh comments that the voices of those aected
by climate change are not made part of the discussions on it because of this hyper-
technical framing of the debate.53 He calls the numbers produced by the debate on
carbon emissions a ‘fog’, where important data such as those on military institutions
is missing, and the emphasis of the statistics is to aect the future while creating no
accountability for past actions.54
The shortcomings with this argument, that focuses on past actions, has been dis-
cussed above already. Here, some of the disdain that Ghosh has for the use of science
46 Ibid. 123.
47 Ibid. 123–124, 151–152.
48 Ibid. See also Tom Ambrose, ‘World’s Militaries Avoiding Scrutiny over Emissions, Scientists Say’
(The Guardian, 11 November 2021). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/11/worlds-mil-
itaries-avoiding-scrutiny-over-emissions. Accessed 21 April 2022; Neta C Crawford, ‘Pentagon Fuel Use,
Climate Change, and the Costs of War’ (Brown University, 13 November 2019). https://watson.brown.edu/
costsofwar/les/cow/imce/papers/Pentagon%20Fuel%20Use%2C%20Climate%20Change%20and%20
the%20Costs%20of%20War%20Revised%20November%202019%20Crawford.pdf. Accessed 21 April
2022.
49 Ibid. 93–97.
50 Ibid. 93.
51 Ibid. 148.
52 Ibid.
53 Ibid. 148–150.
54 Ibid. 151–152.
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or even ‘Western’ science seems exaggerated. For instance, the Linnaean system of
classication of plants and animals is a foundational work55 which has helped docu-
ment existing species and track and protect them from extinction due to the eects of
climate change.56 The scientic discovery of climate change itself57 has put it on the
world’s radar58 and helped understand much of what the current framework is around
mitigating it. Some of these discussions are missing from the book, even though
Ghosh admits that scientic experts are hardly to be blamed for the contexts in which
they produce knowledge.59 The importance of science with respect to climate change
and its eects, however, cannot be undermined.
4.2 Our shared vulnerabilities
In Chapters 11–14, Ghosh poignantly describes the many eects of the climate cri-
sis, worsened by existing inequities and exacerbated by the intersections of race and
class. During the pandemic, the forced exodus of migrant labourers in India,60 the
high rates of infection and mortality amongst Native American populations,61 and
before the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests,62 are all emerging from the
planetary crisis colliding with inequities. Here, Ghosh is using the planetary crisis
to include and mean the viral pandemic, which Ghosh says is not ‘directly’ related
but is ‘not unrelated either’.63 This relationship is never made very clear and could
have benetted from some more explanation in the book, especially as the pandemic
makes an appearance often in the book.
Relating inequities with the climate change crisis, Ghosh has written on forced
migration, directly and indirectly caused by climate change, using personal narratives
of persons he met and interviewed.64 He also narrates some personal stories of being
aected by the pandemic and the climate change which makes his framing of the
crisis even more aectively charged and relatable.65 (Although comparing himself to
a migrant worker stranded in a foreign country could have been avoided, considering
Ghosh’s own caste and class privileges).66
55 https://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/linnaeus-brochure-en.pdf. Accessed 09 May 2022.
56 Cahill E Abigail et al., ‘How Does Climate Change Cause Extinction’ (2013) 1750(280) Proceedings
of the Royal Society B 1–9.
57 https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/#:~:text=In%201896%2C%20a%20seminal%20paper,Earth's%20
atmosphere%20to%20global%20warming. Accessed 9 May 2022.
58 https://science.anu.edu.au/news-events/news/how-we-discovered-climate-problem. Accessed 9 May
2022.
59 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 151.
60 Ibid. 135–136.
61 Ibid. 140–141.
62 Ibid. 139.
63 Ibid. 133.
64 Ibid. 155 57, 163–164.
65 Ibid. 136–138, 160–162.
66 See https://www.gale.com/intl/databases-explored/literature/amitav-ghosh. Accessed 21 April 2022.
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4.3 Politics of vitality: Indigenous movements
In Chapter 7, Ghosh introduces the ‘Gaia hypothesis’67—the Earth as not an inert
object but a dynamic, vital being that is capable of creating and destroying. This
is picked up again from Chapter 15 onwards, where Ghosh challenges the ideas of
a ‘brute nature’ and the populations who, by close association with it (indigenous
groups), are ‘brutish’.68 This idea is not peculiar to the Western settler colonial state,
and applies very well to the Indian settler colonial state as well,69 intensied by what
Ghosh calls a ‘process of brutalization’.70 Ghosh discusses this in some detail in
Chapter 17, where he brings up the systematic marginalisation and oppression of
Dalits and Adivasis.71 Ghosh discusses how legal protections for Adivasis, which
were never very strong, have formed an ‘internal state of exception’.72
This exceptional state brought up by Ghosh is very relevant in understanding how
the Indian state is currently applying anti-terror laws against Adivasis, such as the
draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (‘UAPA’).73 In March 2021,
Hidme Markam, an Adivasi woman and a human rights and environmental rights
activist, was arrested on several charges, including those under the UAPA.74 Markam
had been playing an active role in the ‘Nandraj Pahad Bachao Andolan’ (Save the
Nandraj mountain movement), where there was a protest led by Adivasis against the
iron ore mining project at the Bailadilla region in Chhattisgarh.75 The Adivasis see
the mountain as a sacred site and have protested the mining for some time now.76
Before Hidme Markam, but much like her, in 2011 Soni Sori an Adivasi activist
and a school teacher was arrested on charges of sedition as well as oences under
67 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 85.
68 Ibid. 187.
69 The nature of the Indian state as a settler colonial state is written about and researched on in the context
of the occupation of Kashmir. For example, see ‘Note: From Domicile to Dominion: India’s Settler Colo-
nial Agenda in Kashmir’ (2021) 134(7) Harvard Law Review 2530–2551; Haley Duschinski et al. (eds),
Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (University of Pennsylvania Press 2018).
70 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 196–197.
71 Ibid. 230.
72 Ibid. 231.
73 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, Act No. 37 of 1967. The Act is intended to investigate
and prevent terrorist activities. In its current form, it gives broad power to arrest and detain individuals
and deny them bail. For more on the use of the Act, please see Prerna Dadu, ‘Analysis of Use of UAPA
from NCRB Data’ (CLPR, 1 July 2020). https://clpr.org.in/blog/use-of-the-uapa-from-the-national-crime-
reports-bureau/. Accessed 19 April 2022.
74 Sukanya Shantha, ‘When Process is Punishment: Hidme Markam’s Activism and the Sketchy Cases
Against Her’ (The Wire, 5 April 2021). https://thewire.in/rights/hidme-markam-chhattisgarh-arrest-adi-
vasi-rights. Accessed 21 April 2022.
75 The Leaet, ‘Adivasi Activists and International Organisations call on Chhattisgarh CM to Free Activ-
ist Hidme Markam’ (The Leaet, 10 March 2021). https://theleaet.in/adivasi-activists-and-international-
organisations-call-on-chhattisgarh-cm-to-free-activist-hidme-markam/. Accessed 21 April 2022.
76 Chitrangada Choudhary, ‘Why Hidme Markam, A Voice for Adivasis, is in Prison’ (Article 14, 19 March
2021). https://www.article-14.com/post/why-hidme-markam-a-voice-for-adivasis-is-in-prison. Accessed
21 April 2022.
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the UAPA. Earlier this year, she was acquitted by the trial court in a case that lasted
almost ten years.77
In response, Ghosh has discussed indigenous methods from around the world that
oer ways of learning about and living with the environment.78 Ghosh insists that
indigenous traditions, from Banda and elsewhere, have ways of thinking about the past
that do not centre humans as primary gures, that they are instead a form of remem-
bering history through landscapes,79 a recognition of the agency of nonhumans,80 and
a deep awareness of the environment.81 These ideas culminate to produce a ‘politics
of vitality’ which is introduced in the last part of the book (Chapters 16, 18, and
19). Ghosh advocates this form of politics, although he is somewhat skeptical of its
realisation at this stage of the climate crisis.82 He also warns of the appropriation of
it by a ‘sons of the soil’ type of eco-fascism (Sons of the Soil is used to refer to a
conict between local inhabitants of a region (usually a dominant ethnic group) and
migrants to the region, where usually the former argues that the state/region ‘belongs’
to them).83 In the last Chapter, Ghosh supports the many vitalist political movements
around the world, emphasising on their eectiveness, and insisting that non-human
voices can, do, and must speak.84 That the monstrous Gaia must be heard.
5 Conclusion
‘The question of who is a brute, and who is fully human, who makes meaning and
who does not, lie at the core of the planetary crisis’, 85 Ghosh writes. The politics of
vitality is suering in India and has been for some time—it is not a feature peculiar
to the current conservative government in India but a largely colonial inheritance.86
All the organs of the state are equally complicit in this. In May 2017, the Uttarakhand
77 The Wire Sta, ‘Chhattisgarh: Rights Activist Soni Sori Acquitted in 2011 Sedition Case’ (The Wire, 16
March 2022). https://thewire.in/rights/chhattisgarh-rights-activist-soni-sori-acquitted-in-2011-sedition-
case. Accessed 21 April 2022.
78 Ghosh, The Nutmeg’s Curse (n 4) 206–212, 218–222.
79 Ibid. 34–35.
80 Ibid. 204.
81 Ibid. 212.
82 Ibid. 222.
83 Ibid. 226–229. See also Avidit Acharya, David D Laitin, and Ruxi Zhang, ‘“Sons of the Soil” A Model
of Assimilation and Population Control’ (Department of Political Science – Stanford University, 14 June
2017). http://stanford.edu/~avidit/SoS.pdf. Accessed 21 April 2022.
84 Ibid. 256–257.
85 Ibid. 195.
86 For example, the Indian Forest Act 1927, Act No. 16 of 1927; Permanent Settlement of 1793 (also
known as the Cornwallis Code of 1973); and the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, Act No. 27 of 1871 all
aimed to ‘civilise’ the native. See Christopher Binay Nag, ‘Adivasis and the Indian State: Stereotyped as
“Primitive” and “Savage”, Tribal Communities Fight for Right to Choose Social, Cultural, Land-owning
Systems’ (The Firstpost, 21 August 2019). https://www.rstpost.com/india/adivasis-and-the-indian-state-
stereotyped-as-primitive-savage-tribal-communities-ght-for-right-to-choose-social-cultural-land-own-
ing-systems-7200111.html. Accessed 21 April 2022.
Jindal Global Law Review
1 3
High Court of India had given legal recognition to the rivers Ganga and Yamuna,87
an order which was later stayed by the Supreme Court of India for nal adjudica-
tion.88 The matter has not been disposed of till date and the order remains stayed. In
2019, the Supreme Court of India ordered, and later stayed,89 the eviction of at least
11 lakh forest dwellers, tribes, and Adivasis whose claims for forest land rights had
been rejected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.90 The case which also challenges the
constitutional validity of this Act remains pending till date.
It is in this context that Ghosh’s call for a politics of vitality seems far reaching and
unrealistic. But that does not take away from the larger ideas that precede it. One of
the most signicant achievements of this book is its compelling breadth of narratives.
Ghosh weaves these narratives to connect many ideas, information, myths, and ritu-
als which may be generally available to the public as scattered ideas. But, he makes
them accessible as a rich story of historical and cultural linkages. Arguably, Ghosh’s
ideas are not new. There exists ample literature on the colonial policies’ impact on
existing economies in Asia and Africa, the lingering ‘racial capitalism’ (the thinkers
of this tradition claim that colonialism, slavery, and race are essential to understand-
ing capitalism), and now neo-liberalism.91 Aside from minor gaps, Ghosh has written
a very evocative text, interspersing facts as stories, while communicating an urgent
call to address the climate change crisis—now a planetary crisis.
Acknowledgement The author is very grateful to Prof. (Dr.) Arun Sagar and Prof. (Dr.) Oishik Sircar for
their insightful comments and suggestions.
Declaration
Conflict of interest The author certies that there is no conict of interest with the organisation insofar as
the subject matter discussed in the manuscript is concerned.
87 Salim v State of Uttarakhand WP 126/2014 [Uttarakhand HC, Nainital Bench, Judgment dt. 20 March
2017]. The Public Interest Litigation (‘PIL’) concerned the illegal constructions and encroachments along
rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The Court declared that ‘the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries,
streams, every natural water owing with ow continuously or intermittently of these rivers, are declared
as juristic/legal persons/living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights,
duties and liabilities of a living person in order to preserve and conserve river Ganga and Yamuna.’
88 State of Uttarakhand & Ors v Mohd. Salim & Ors SLP(C) 016879/2017 [Supreme Court, Order dated
7 July 2017].
89 Wildlife First v Ministry of Forest and Environment WP (C) 109/2008 [Supreme Court, Orders dated 13
February 2019 and 28 February 2019].
90 Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, Act
No. 2 of 2007. There continue to be allegations of lack of any guidelines, mechanisms, and fair processes
on how rights are being decided and adjudicated under this Act. See, for instance, Ayaskant Das, ‘Millions
at Risk of Eviction as Modi Govt Shies away from Co-ordinating States to Review Forest Rights Claims’
(Newsclick, 8 July 2021). https://www.newsclick.in/Millions-Risk-Eviction-Modi-Govt-Shies-Away-
Coordinating-States-Review-Forest-Rights-Claims. Accessed 21 April 2022.
91 Tariq Amin, The Post-Colonial State in the Era of Capitalist Globalization: Historical, Political and
Theoretical Approaches to State Formation (Routledge 2013); Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism; The
making of the Black Radical Tradition (The University of North Carolina Press 2000); Richard Grove,
Ecology, Climate and Empire: Colonialism and Global Environmental History, 1400–1940 (White Horse
Press 1997).
Jindal Global Law Review
1 3
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and institutional aliations.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
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