Settler Sensibilities and Environmental Change: The Unmaking of a Malarial Landscape in the Far West Tarai
From the vantage of Farwest Nepal’s Hill dwelling peoples, the Tarai has been historically experienced and represented as inhospitable for year‐round residence due in part to malaria and other diseases thought to be innate to the Tarai environment. By the mid‐ twentieth century, however, malaria eradication projects began contributing to the emergence of a new perspective that envisioned the Tarai as a haven for Hill peoples argued to face a triumvirate of poverty, overpopulation, and natural disasters in their home regions. Conceptualizing the jungles of Kailali as potentially pastoral and habitable for Hill dwellers entailed a material as well as imaginative transformation of the landscape. In this paper, I will attend to the articulation of affective and physical labor accompanying the unmaking of a malarial landscape, connecting environmental changes to the formation of a settler sensibility in the Farwest Tarai.
In comparison to the Central and Eastern Tarai, malaria eradication efforts occurred later in the Farwestern region, beginning only in 1964—more than a decade after the reintroduction of malaria management to Nepal in 1951. The temporality of Tarai migration within the Farwest soon outpaced the planned management of malaria. The science supporting malaria management in Nepal understood transmission of malaria to occur near human dwellings, granaries, and village water sources more so than jungles, streams, or rivers. As a result, Malaria Eradication Office staff working in Kailali district in the mid‐1960s explicitly targeted villages for chemical treatment, and worked with villagers to manage malaria in domesticated spaces. Keeping up with the growth of villages, as well as the increasing presence of “illegal” settlements and impromptu homesteads within the region from the 1960s onward, caused endless trouble for sprayers and project managers working to end cases of malaria transmission within the district. Consequently, domesticity for Farwest Tarai settlers arose in a malarial context, albeit one that was rapidly changing.
Drawing from my ongoing dissertation research in eastern Kailali, the paper will examine the interplay between the performance of malaria eradication labor in the 1960s, the creation of domestic space, and the configuration of the Farwest Tarai as a productive, hospitable, agricultural region for non‐Tarai origin peoples. At the heart of my analysis will be a juxtaposition of the experiences of two malaria eradication workers operating in eastern Kailali—one a Bahun field supervisor and trainer from Dang, the other a local‐born Dangaura Tharu foreman. Connected to their accounts are the practices of eastern Kailali residents who worked to clear jungles, make fields, build homes, and form social relations amongst themselves and the Tarai environment. Through an intimate portrayal of the process of unmaking a malarial landscape, the paper will examine how environmental change relates to the formation of settler societies, linking the dynamics of the Farwest Tarai to theories of settlerism and environment—especially as they play out in the Global South.