Bangladesh’s forest NGOscape : visions of Mandi indigeneity, competing eco-imaginaries, and faltering entrepreneurs in the climate of suspicion
Dodson, Alex Ray
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The assemblage of competing development programs I call an "NGOscape", effective in Bangladesh's forest spaces, is a window into understanding both local and extra-local imaginings of the future of these spaces. By tracing the close interaction of three of the most prominent forces in operation in Bangladesh's forest NGOscapes: indigeneity, environmentalism, and entrepreneurialism, I discuss how the government and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) work to increase management and securitization of these forces. Through ethnography and close analysis of the minority Mandi community, and NGOs in the capital city of Dhaka and in rural Modhupur, Tangail, I interpret Modhupur as a vital and telling site for examining the close interdependence of these three themes. Adivasi ("aboriginal") folklorization and representation is deployed by Mandi leaders and NGOs, and provides a space for Mandi internal debates about authenticity, representation, modernity, and the way forward. Neoliberal imaginings centered on transforming Mandi livelihoods into something more appropriately modern are realized on the ground, evidenced by Alternative Income Generation (AIG) programs that push for market integration, and attempt to utilize claims about adivasi indigeneity to advance a security-management paradigm, national stability, and civic responsibility. Young activists and environmentalists based in Dhaka are crucial forces in promoting the broader development and NGO agenda, utilizing the themes of environmental responsibility and progressive conservation programs. Additionally, development agendas are complicated by other factors, such as eco-tourism trends that seek to indoctrinate the Mandi and other rural actors into acceptable and responsible ways of managing environment, while also relying on national pride. These competing forces rely on national pride and social shaming to transform rural Bangladeshis from being somehow "backward" into more desirable, modern subjects. Yet severe distrust within a larger "climate of suspicion," between adivasi leaders, activists, and the state ultimately disrupt the fluidity of development practices at the local level. The result places various actors in precarious positions, left to interpret and be interpreted into development, NGO, and state-based objectives.