This is a paper about the politics of fishing rights in and around the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in coastal Odisha, in eastern India. Claims to the resources of this sanctuary are politicised through the creation of a particularly damaging narrative by influential Odiya environmental actors about Bengalis, as illegal immigrants who have hurt the ecosystem through their fishing practices. Anchored within a theoretical framework of justice as recognition, the paper considers the making of a regional Odiya environmentalism that is, potentially, deeply exclusionary. It details how an argument about ‘illegal Bengalis’ depriving ‘indigenous Odiyas’ of their legitimate ‘traditional fishing rights’ derives from particular notions of indigeneity and territory. But the paper also shows that such environmentalism is tenuous, and fits uneasily with the everyday social landscape of fishing in coastal Odisha. It concludes that a wider class conflict between small fishers and the state over a sanctuary sets the context in which questions about legitimate resource rights are raised, sometimes with important effects, like when out at sea.
- Fishers rights