Sarah Besky

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This paper will analyze migration from rural eastern Nepal to tea plantations in eastern Nepal and Darjeeling and the potentials such migration might represent for coping with rural vulnerability and food scarcity. I will contextualize this paper in a regional history of agricultural intensification and migration, which began in the eighteenth century with Gorkhali conquests of todays Mechi region and continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the recruitment of plantation laborers from Nepal to British India. For many Kiranti ethnic groups, agricultural intensification resulted in social marginalization, land degradation due to over-population and over-farming, and eventual migration to Darjeeling to work on British tea plantations. The British lured Rais, Limbus, and other tribal peoples to Darjeeling with hopes of prosperity. When these migrants arrived, they benefited from social welfare like free housing, health care, food rations, nurseries, and plantation schools — things unknown to them under Nepal's oppressive monarchal regime. For almost two centuries, Rai and Limbu migration to Darjeeling was an escape from rural poverty and oppression in Nepal, but plantation life introduced them to different forms of inequality.'