Climate (im)mobilities in the Age of COVID: The Case of Return Migrants in the Ganges Delta Region of India


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Speaker: Tanaya Dutta Gupta, PhD Candidate, Sociology, UC Davis


A PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Davis, Tanaya’s dissertation research focuses on climate change, (im)mobilities and borders in the Bengal delta region of Bangladesh and India. She is a visiting researcher with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Bangladesh and a collaborator with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India. Her research is funded by the National Geographic Society, UC Davis Dean’s Summer Graduate Fellowship, and UC Davis Graduate Program Fellowship.


Internal migration is a common phenomenon from climate vulnerable regions in the South, with migrants journeying to urban destinations but keeping one foot in villages. My research focuses on a group of rural-urban migrants in India who were among millions stranded without income support in various urban centers due to the countrywide COVID-19 induced lockdown since March 2020. Left with no other option but to return to their villages in the Ganges delta region, a major climate hotspot, they were confronted by cascading impacts of the pandemic as well as cyclone Amphan that wreaked havoc in the area in May 2020. Based on phone-interviews with the migrants and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region, I analyze: 1) how mobility and immobility intersect in times of crisis, exacerbating vulnerabilities to climate related environmental and socio-economic impacts, and 2) how experiential knowledge of the migrants, juxtaposed with “expert” knowledge of NGOs can shape and advance our understanding of climate change related (im)mobilities. Situating my findings in a broader conversation on climate (im)mobilities, I argue for the need to critically examine crisis-induced return as part of a more holistic framework on the nexus between climate change and migration at a global scale.

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