South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Contested Crabs: China’s Appetite and International Conservation

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

This paper explores what the lives, livelihoods, and catch of crab collectors in the Sundarbans, a mangrove delta traversing India and Bangladesh, reveal about the idiosyncratic global connections that make up this world and their impacts on local settings. Specifically, I describe the onset and consequences of two simultaneous and interrelated phenomena: China’s skyrocketing demand for mud crabs on the one hand, and international conservation actor’s efforts to protect the Sundarbans Bengal tiger by keeping out the crab collectors from the same forests. The opening up of Chinese and Southeast Asian markets, along with improved flight connectivity with Kolkata, has repositioned Sundarban crab collectors at the end of a ravenous global supply chain that sees mud crabs travel from villages in the Sundarbans to export houses in Kolkata and onward to Shanghai, Beijing, and Bangkok.  For the crab collectors, the majority landless and lowest caste, new profits have resulted in transformed relationships with erstwhile patrons and a social counterpunch by other groups unconnected from the supply chain. Even as the crab collectors have benefitted, their livelihood has been heavily curtailed by a different foreign force, international conservation, and its campaign to police and restrict access to the Sundarbans’forests. These transnational economic and ecological forces and their forceful impact on the everyday lives of crab collectors and the political geography of the Sunderbans itself shows the new forms of interactions that the Bay of Bengal delta has with Asia and the rest of the world.   


Megnaa Mehtta

LSE, United Kingdom


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2 - Contested Crabs: China’s Appetite and International Conservation

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