Gender in National Identity Formation: The case of Assamese Subnationalism

By Manashi Misra

A rich body of scholarship exists on the Assamese identity question and the mass movements arising out of it. The gender aspect of this identity quest however has remained a curious omission in these scholarly debates. This omission is significant as women’s large- scale participation in all the democratic protest movements was considered to be one of their most legitimising factors. This paper is an attempt to fill this gap, while steering clear of reducing it to an additive study. Drawing from the Foucauldian notion of power, it is argued that the process of consolidation of Assamese identity was simultaneously a process of disciplining and liberating women. Through an analysis of the writings of the late 19th and early 20th century Assamese nationalist writers, it is argued that there was a conscious effort to draw a distinct identity for Assamese women in these writings, which in turn was used to demonstrate the uniqueness of the Assamese jati, primarily juxtaposing them with the Bengalis. In such a context, how were women themselves situated in formulation of identity? Did they chart out their own course of journey or did they choose to follow the path already decided for them?

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