Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Understanding the Histories of Peoples on the Margins: A Critique of "Northeast India's Durable Disorder"

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Understanding the Histories of Peoples on the Margins: A Critique of "Northeast India's Durable Disorder"

Article excerpt

This article examines the often misconceived problem of insurgency and various political, social, and law and order problems of northeast India, which Sanjib Baruah calls "Northeast India's Durable Disorder." The region has been stereotyped by the post-colonial state of India as a "disturbed area" infested with insurgents and militants. In its attempts to resolve this "durable disorder," India fails to engage with its underlying causes in the construction of new political boundaries in both the colonial and postcolonial eras. Keywords: Insurgency, counterinsurgency, frontiers, borders, cartographic surgery, Nagalim, Zomia

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Postcolonial writers--administrators, academicians, especially ethnographers and anthropologists--often deemphasize preexisting social realities cutting across the boundaries of newly conceived areas or newly created administrative units within a state or states. As one specific example, the fact that the present states of northeast India are colonial and postcolonial creations is often taken for granted, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, and sometimes intentionally. Colonial rulers once delineated certain areas in the region on the basis of ethnic identities and levels of sociopolitical organization: of stateless and "primitive" hill tribes, or state-based and relatively more "civilized" plainspeople, and so on. This sprang out of the general assumption in Europe that prior to European contact native cultures around the world had been relatively static/unchanging and primitive. This assumption was rooted in the colonial construction of what Partha Chatterjee calls "the rule of difference," which connotes the idea that the colonized were fundamentally different from and inferior to the colonizers. (1) Such stereotypical and derogatory tags as primitive, wild, and tribal were attributed to many of the least understood communities of present northeast India. The colonial constructions of wildness and primitiveness were inherent in the attempt of the colonists to justify their colonizing projects in the guise of such euphemisms as "civilizing mission" or "white men's burden." More specifically, and as Johannes Fabian has argued, "imperialism and colonial anthropology were both fundamentally based on the denial of coevalness, that anthropologists placed the societies they studied in a time different from and before their own." (2) The legacy of the British colonial period persists to this day in both political policymakings and academic discourses, both at the center and state levels.

More specifically, the independence and freedom of the Nagas were challenged by the British. Although the Nagas resisted with gusto and patriotic spirit, their crude weapons were outmatched by British artilleries and guns. Parts of Nagalim, the "enchanted space" or "the patriot's notion of territory" (3) of the Nagas encompassing the entire Naga "ancestral domain" (4) in India and Burma, fell into British hands and was incorporated into Assam Province, the North East Frontier Agency, and Muneepoor Agency (now Manipur state). The entire Nagalim was implicitly incorporated, at least in maps, into the British empires in India and Burma by the Treaty of Yandabo (24 February 1826); the boundary between Manipur and Ava/Burma, called the Pemberton Line, was delimited in 1833; the boundary between Assam and Burma was delimited without a treaty in 1837 by virtue of the Treaty of Yandabo, which resulted in the annexation of Assam, Cachar, Jaintia, and Manipur, and the virtual acceptance of the "vast mountain range between these kingdoms/states and Ava/Burma as the boundary between Assam and Burma"; the Naga Hills District (incorporated into Assam Province) was created in 1866; and Tuensang district or Tuensang Frontier Division was made one of the six divisions of the North East Frontier Agency. Some other parts of the present state of Nagaland and of Nagalim that lay beyond the territorial and jurisdictional limits of the Naga Hills District and the Tuensang Frontier Division remained as "frontiers" throughout the colonial period and for about two decades into the postcolonial period as well. …

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