This exhibition is concerned with the lives and lifeworlds of indigenous migrants who have travelled from the faraway Northeastern frontier to the expanding cities of South India. This movement does not involve the crossing of any international border, yet both geographically and culturally it is a movement into a very different place.

It is a movement away from predominantly rural livelihoods with subsistence agriculture and politics revolving around ethnic homelands – with armed struggles and massive human rights violations – and a corrupt local state structure, to a life in major Indian cities, where migrants are seen as outsiders. Yet where their un-Indian looks and English language skills help provide jobs in the growing, global service sector.

The exhibition is part of a larger anthropological research project where we examine why an increasing number of indigenous youth from Northeast India have started to migrate, leaving the land, at this particular point in time. This mobility has to be understood in the context of an affirmative action regime and a political culture that privilege sedentarism: that people stay put in place and claim rights to ancestral territories.

We focus on what labour migration to the south and to the metropolis entails in relation to care for family members and community in the hills. By doing so we aim to assess the cultural fissures at work in people’s attachment to the places of their journeys. The young indigenous migrants seem to be out on a migration route without fixed destinations, struggling to make out what and where home is. We refer to this as wayfinding: a voyage without a map or beaten paths or pathways to follow and with no clear destination or end station. But rather as a form of movement where the traveller constantly is adjusting the direction, seeking out new places and possibilities as he or she is moving on. And as the young are leaving – no longer interested in cultivating the land – we ask what the future holds for the indigenous communities of Northeast India.


It is their first life journey out of Nagaland. Our prayer is that we have done whatever we could do. We told them that we are sending them outside so that some path opens up for them.

Mother in Dimapur about her daughter and her friends who have gone to work in a five star hotel in Pune.