Academic journal article Borderlands

Politics of Region: The Making of Nagas Identity during the Colonial and Post-Colonial Era

Academic journal article Borderlands

Politics of Region: The Making of Nagas Identity during the Colonial and Post-Colonial Era

Article excerpt

This paper is an attempt to problematize the concept of 'region' so as to analyze the politics of the Nagas (inhabiting the border or frontier of India and Myanmar/Burma nation-states) in the first half of the twentieth century. The ideas of 'region' and 'margin' are used as conceptual tools in this paper to analyze the complex nature of the politics of identity. The paper argues in particular that the 'production' of region--in this case that of the modern state--involves space and power, but that the margins of constructed regions have powers to resist and defy the hegemonic powers of the state, both ideological and institutional. The making of identity, this paper contends, is thus the making of place and the politics of identity is also the politics of space. The first section of the paper deals with the problemalization of the concept of 'region' and 'margin'. 'Region' is defined there as a particular way of partitioning space and the control and exercise of power over it, while 'margin' is conceptualized as a space of contradiction and contestation. The second section illustrates how colonial rulers constructed frontiers (or, for this paper, 'margins') from the blank-spaces in Imperial maps in the nineteenth century as part of the development of the modern politico-spatial arrangement. The last section explores how the Nagas, located in the 'margin' of constructed 'regions', contested and resisted this identity in the first half of the twentieth century.

There is a politics of space because space is political.

--Henri Lefebvre

Power is everywhere not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.

--Michel Foucault

Introduction

1. This paper is an attempt to problematize the concept of 'region' and analyze the politics of the Nagas (inhabiting the border or frontier of India and Myanmar/Burma [1] nation-states) in the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that the making of the Nagas identity can be understood as an attempt on the part of the Nagas to regionalize this space. More generally, the paper is about the history of colonial construction of boundaries and frontiers in the modern politico-spatial arrangement, and specifically about the production of the Nagas 'homeland' and resistance of the Nagas to colonial and post-colonial rule. The significance of the paper lies in the attempt to explore why and how the history of the Nagas in the twentieth century reflects a history of resistance, insofar as the Naga political struggle, emerged in the early twentieth century, is the first 'insurgent' movement in India and has been one of the protracted political struggles in South Asia [2].

2. Overall then this paper argues that the 'margins' of a region are able to contest not only dominant 'spatial arrangements' (that pushed them into the marginal position); but 'spatial ideologies' (that imposed a certain identity and history); and 'spatial practices' (that dominate them in everyday life). Divided into three main sections, the first section of this paper seeks to clarify the concepts and functions of 'region' and 'margin' with reference to the modern conception of the nation-state. The second section explores the colonial construction of the frontier from the 'blank space' [3] in maps during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Here, the paper argues that colonial rulers regionalized these blank spaces for their own geo-politics and economic interests. Primarily though, this paper focuses on the margins, the end of one region and the beginning of the other. It attempts to map how these regions are constructed and why and how the margins of a region are able to contest the modern politico-spatial arrangement. Hence, the final part of the paper examines how and why the Nagas, located in the margins, were able to resist the modern forms of spatial and political powers. In the modern politico-spatial order this space has become the border of two 'regions'. …

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