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Bird’s eye view: Aerial surveillance and producing the Indigenous subject in India

Authors: Elspeth Iralu*, University of New Mexico
Topics: Political Geography, Indigenous Peoples, Cartography
Keywords: political geography, critical cartography, aerial perspective, Indigeneity, India, Kashmir, Nagaland
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In November 2012, news hit international media of a “massacre” of migrating Amur falcon by Indigenous peoples in northeast India. International outcry resulted in a variety of interventions, including the geotagging of several Amur falcon. The geospatial data generated by these GPS-tagged birds remains accessible online. In this paper, I examine this geospatial data collection and dissemination not as a means to monitor birds but, rather, to surveil Indigenous peoples. I analyze the use of this GPS data as an enactment of India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law which declares specific territories to be “disturbed,” permitting Indian military and police forces to act with impunity. Using India’s contemporary enactment of AFSPA in Kashmir and Naga territory as a starting point, I look back at the origins of AFSPA in colonial British India as an embodiment of colonial counterinsurgent policy, developed through British colonialism in North America. To generate this long view of AFSPA, I analyze legal language in AFSPA, reports on AFSPA-sanctioned violence by UN special rapporteurs, and colonial and imperial legal categorization of lands as “disturbed.” The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how geospatial data reinforces the notion of the Indigenous as Insurgent. I examine how geospatial data is taken up to police Indigenous peoples and limit Indigenous sovereignty. I focus in particular on the Amur falcon and the surveillance of nature, showing the ways in which colonialism and imperialism weaponize geospatial data to cast aspersion on Indigenous peoples and justify colonial intervention.

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