Roluahpuia, Nationalism in the Vernacular: State, Tribes, andthe Politics of Peace in Northeast India, Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2023

Reviewed by George Chakma

Isaiah Berlin, one of the finest historians of ideas, on nationalism once wrote: ‘‘There was one movement which dominated much of the nineteenth century in Europe and was so pervasive, so familiar, that it is only by a conscious effort of the imagination that one can conceive a world in which it played no part: It had its partisans and its enemies, its democratic, its, aristocratic, and monarchist wings, it inspired men of action and artists, intellectual elites and the masses…’’ (Berlin, 1968, p. 337). Of course, Berlin was specifically talking about the European condition, but nationalism as a socio-cultural-political phenomenon has taken shape in almost every nook and corner of the world. Berlin’s comments succinctly describe the nature of nationalism and the role it plays in shaping modern polities and identities. The northeastern region of India has been no exception. The winds of modernity have caused (sub?) nationalist groups here as well to ideate their respective poetics and sensibilities of national identity and nationalist politics. The case of Mizo nationalism presents to us as one of the textbook examples of modern invention of a national identity and the playing out of nationalist politics, yet it has not grabbed the attention of many scholars. Roluahpuia’s book ‘‘Nationalism in the vernacular: state, tribes, and the politics of peace in northeast India’’ is a timely intervention that has the potential to become a seminal work.

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Jelle J.P. Wouters (Ed.). Vernacular Politics in Northeast India: Democracy, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity. Oxford University Press, India, 2022

Reviewed by Tanaya Hazarika

Vernacular Politics in Northeast India: Democracy, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity, edited by Jelle J.P. Wouters, is a compilation of essays that attempts to comprehensively explore the complex political landscape of the Northeast region of India. It is an insightful analysis of the complex interplay between politics, democracy, ethnicity, and indigeneity by compiling research from a diverse group of scholars who possess an intimate affinity to the region, either scholastically or by being native to the region. Hence, it provides an understanding of the intricate web of politics in Northeast India.

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Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, University of Chicago Press, 2005

Reviewed by Monis Ahmad

Giorgio Agamben’s seminal work the State of exception is primarily dealing with the nuances of theorising, when it comes to using/enforcing emergency power provisions by modern constitutional states. To quote Agamben, “the unstoppable progression of what has been called a “global civil war,” the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics. This transformation of a provisional and exceptional measure into a government technique threatens to radically alter, and at times have altered the structure and meaning of the traditional distinction between constitutional forms”. The state of exception from the outset is a point of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism. In this context the concept of bio-politics borrowed from Michel Foucault to further expatiate on the control of state when it comes to enforcing and controlling law over its citizens deserves a mention.

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John Thomas, Evangelising the Nation: Religion and the
Formation of Naga Political Identity. New Delhi:
Routledge, 2016

Reviewed by Sangay Tamang

Within the domain of controversial debate concerning missionary and Naga Nationalism in India, this book presents a new perspective to look historically the relationship between missionary, colonialism and ethnic identity formation among the Nagas of North East India. Tracking history dated back to 17th century Europe, the author attempted to bring a picture of missionary emergence and the role it played in transforming the culture and tradition of Native American.Through extensive archival research and using the missionary metaphor of “city set on the hill”,Thomas tried to locate the birth of American Baptist missionary in the Hills of Nagatoo and the way it mediate the notion of “’civilisation” and “modernity” in North East India. The discussion on conversion towards Christianity among the Nagas has been well presented in this book by articulating the contradiction, confrontation and negotiation of politics between missionary, colonial administration and local institutions. The question likes “what do we want of this man’s new religion?” by an Ao elder (p. 50) present a problematic discourse of missionary’s inconsistency, conflict and its suspicious character within the heterogeneous configuration of Naga society.

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Mahmood Mamdani, Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012

Reviewed by Prashant Narang

In present day India, where we debate rights and access to resources and opportunities through a vocabulary of social justice and also sometimes through citizenship and son-of-soil claims; in “Define and Rule,” Mamdani interrogates the construction of the concept of “native”. He argues that the concept of “nativism” is a political construction of colonial intellectuals during crisis in mid-nineteenth century. Mamdani distinguishes between direct and indirect rule. Initially, the colonial supremacy was direct but post-mutiny in Colonial India, British institutionalized politics of difference which Mamdani calls as “Define and Rule”. This was more indirect by way of managing differences and monopolizing the power to define identities. Mamdani attributes construction of “the native” to the colonial intellectuals at the time of crisis. He identifies Sir Henry Maine as the key intellectual who guides the colonial administrators post-1857 crisis of the British Empire in India. Similar project was undertaken by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje in Dutch East Indies. These colonial historiographers demarcated and carved out the native identity differentiating it from the settler and amongst native based on tribes.

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James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Reviewed by Jeemut Pratim Das

‘The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia’, published in 2009, marked a renewed focus on the history and people of the Southeast Asian mainland massif of ‘zomia’, a term that Scott borrows from Willem Van Schendel1 to denote the geographical region stretching from the mountain highlands of Vietnam to India’s northeastern regions. This area, he argues, is populated by people characterized by a history of escapism from the expansionist padi wet rice agricultural states of the lowlands over the course of their fluid history, thereby seeking to contest the common assumption of them being left behind in the march of civilizational progress and being reduced to uncivilized barbarians in the process. Scott argues that the art of escaping was a deliberate choice rather than a forced exclusion, where the history of the hills is itself a unique construction of a ‘state effect’ of ‘ingathering’ of populations that seeks to make the peripheries visible and legible in the eyes of the modern state. By extension, this denotes an anarchist and non-state history as the choice came ‘from below’ and was not a state imposition, though the lenses through which the hills are viewed still exist and are defined and reified by (misguided) state practices of ordering the totality of existence within its increasingly well-defined borders.

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Being a tribal man from the North-East: Migration, Morality and Masculinity by Duncan McDuie-Ra

By Hoineilhing Sitlhou

Duncan McDuie-Ra is an Australian academician who has done extensive research on the subject of Northeast migrants in New Delhi. He has written numerous articles on Northeast Indian culture and society, all of which are published in reputed journals and are excerpt from his more critically acclaimed book ‘Northeast Migrants in Delhi: Race, Refuge and Retail’. The article highlights the intersection between masculinity, ethnicity and migration within national boundaries with particular references to the Northeast frontier of India. For McDuie-Ra the theory that ‘migration cause the production and reproduction of masculine norms’ is relevant to understand the tribals of Northeast India. In Delhi, the concept of masculinity is reshaped in the face of changing gender relations and the status of tribals as a minority ethnic community. The article used the interpretative paradigm of study. He conducted ethnographic field research in Delhi from December 2010 to February 2011 and again in December 2011. The research is also informed by ten years of regular ethnographic fieldwork in Northeast India itself, primarily in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The author established rapport, lived and interacted with his respondent in order to understand their everyday experiences and realities. In Delhi, the author lived in a North easterner’s neighbourhood, travelled with tribal migrants around the city and conducted interviews and conversations in the places where tribal migrants live, work and study. Delhi was chosen as the universe of study to understand the problem of tribal migration for three reasons: First, it has the largest community of tribal migrants outside the Northeast region, second, the tribal community in Delhi is more diverse and third, Delhi is the ultimate choice of destination for the tribals either to pursue their education or career.

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Sanjib Baruah, In the Name of the Nation: India and its Northeast, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020.

Reviewed by Thongkholal Haokip

The scholarship of Sanjib Baruah on North East India studies is well-known in India and beyond in the last two decades. Many benefitted from his earlier works on various issues of the Northeast – from the politics of subnationalism to citizenship, ethnic conflicts to peace process, territoriality and indigeneity. However, in this latest work under review he mainly draws from the existing studies on India’s Northeast to further explain the prevalent problems together in the region in the last one decade. Baruah introduces the book by explaining the directional name “the northeast”, and its derivate term northeasterner as an expression of “a certain hierarchy and relation of power”, and the attempt by postcolonial Indian state to “turn an imperial frontier space into the national space”. In this process, through the imposition and creation of a special security regime, a situation of democracy deficits emerges in this regime of othering. Within the region, the “other others” responded by trying to identify themselves in certain terms, for example Gorkha, to assert Indian citizenship. Baurah continues the discussion on the colonial origins of indirect rule in the northeast frontier as a mode of governance during the British rule and its continuation in independent India.

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Dilip Gogoi, Making of India’s Northeast: Geopolitics of Borderland and Transnational Interactions, Routledge, 2020.

Reviewed by Chinggelniang

Making of India’s Northeast: Geopolitics of Borderland and Transnational Interactions by Dilip Gogoi, is an engaging book that explores topics of borderland, sub-state, territories, and geopolitics. The conceptual framework of the research examines state behavior and interstate interactions while drawing largely on theories of international relations. In addition to charting the idea of Northeast India’s sub-state territory, it delves into the region’s complex political and socioeconomic challenges. The first chapter discusses the notion of sub-state and its exclusion from the dominant theories of international relations. Gogoi discusses how he attempts to investigate the same through an intensive study on Northeast India, the region that is often viewed as a geopolitically sensitive and distinctive region of India (p 1). The rationale behind selecting the sub-state region of Northeast India for this study is linked to the post-colonial state-making process, which saw the introduction of a new notion of border and sovereignty (p 4). As a result, it prompted the construction of additional barriers, further dividing several ethnic groups who were on the “margins” of the process. It also led to the introduction of multiple political and socio economic issues in the region.

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Anupama Roy. Citizenship Regimes, Law, and Belonging: The CAA and the NRC. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2022.

Reviewed by Adrita Gogoi

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The NRC and the CAA has generated debates on Indian citizenship, more particular on the present regime who have, amidst widespread criticism from the public, have given effect to the same. While the process of updating NRC was carried out distinctively in Assam because of popular consensus, it was not viewed the same way in other parts of the country. Even CAA was criticized from different contexts. Anupama Roy brings out the genesis of the recent trend of citizenship in India in the most comprehensive manner. The book by Anupama Roy specifically engages with the NRC and CAA in India, bringing in another instance of understanding the regime and discourse of citizenship in India, the ideology and legal practices of the state, more importantly the specific shift towards the principle of jus sanguinis. Roy discusses the different strands of citizenship in the book-  the hyphenated presenting the Assam’s case and the NRC; bounded citizenship in terms of CAA, distinguishing citizens from the non-citizens; liminal citizenship understanding the LBTA of 2015; to dissident citizenship. All these presents the recent characteristics of citizenship in India when a particular regime defined and delineated citizenship in a jus sanguinis order. It is interesting to understand from the book how intrinsically legacy was connected to ethnic/cultural and religious identity giving way to exclusionary citizenship practices in India.

The introduction of the book begins with the bringing of the CAA in the Indian parliament and starts with the premise that the CAA must be studied as a law in its anthropological context- taking back not only to the historical ruptures but also the regimes where citizenship laws were amended and modified over ideas as to who belongs and how. Roy begins the book stating that citizenship laws in India must not only be seen as ‘bare provisions’ but also must be understood from the regimes from where these laws emerged giving it an ideological and political definition. These citizenship practices for Roy, emerged from three successive regimes which gave three successive amendments to the Indian Citizenship Act. The first was the Citizenship Amendment Act of 1955 which was characterized by constitutional democracy and republican citizenship, a kind of transformative citizenship where people was the source of state authority and constitutionalism as the key feature; the second regime came in the wake of the Assam movement that led to an amendment in the Citizenship Act in 1985- making space for the Assamese citizen; the third regime was the 2003 amendment act for OCI which Roy argues have given way to the NRC and CAA putting in place a kind of documentary citizenship in India.

The first chapter, Hyphenated Citizenship: The National Register of Citizens is Roy’s attempt to understand the NRC in Assam which marks a distinctive regime of Indian citizenship in establishing an ‘Assamese legacy’ in determining the citizens and non-citizens of India. The responsibility of the Central government to trace the legacy of the Assamese through supporting documents to prove their Indian citizenship generated a kind of hyphenated citizenship in the Indian context. The Assamese exception in the preparation of the NRC, given their long struggle against undocumented Bangladeshi migrants was traced to the historic Assam movement, the Assam Accord and the special amendment in the citizenship Act of 1985. Roy argues that the discourse of the debate around NRC drove the regional and electoral politics of Assam and the narrative of protecting the Axomiya Jaati, marked a clear departure from the Assam Accord where the NRC was more involved in identifying citizens instead of ‘identifying and deporting illegal migrants’. The chapter intensely engages with the institutional, juridical and documentary practices in the preparation of the NRC in Assam, where many contestations and doubts arouse with the publication of the final draft.

The second chapter “Bounded Citizenship: The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019” presents a different regime of Indian citizenship which was brought through the CAA of 2019- where a notion of bounded citizenship was put in practice, where citizenship installs strict walls of separation, distinguishing citizens from the non-citizens on the basis of religion. The chapter brings out the way CAA and NRC brought about an ideological narrative in the country. It discusses the ideological framing of the citizenship in India through debates in the Constituent Assembly and the recent debates in the Parliament in December 2019 on CAA. The third chapter “Liminal Citizenship: The ‘Returnees’ and ‘New’ citizens” engages with the Land Border Agreement Treaty of 2015, between India and Bangladesh to resolve the disputes pertaining to the demarcation of boundary, where the exchange of land and population took place, presents a complex scenario of belongingness to the land and homeland. Though the LBAT exchanged the population and attempted to solve the illegality and ambivalence of citizenship over borders, it never completely absorbed the belongingness tied to their land, with expressions of loss and betrayal. This is presented through lived experiences at three transit camps for Indian returnees in Dinhata, Mekhliganj and haldibari and two chits with new citizens at Balipukhuri and Dhabalsati Mirgipur. The last chapter “Recalling Citizenship: The Constitutional Ethic” discusses the democratic practice of constitutional citizenship that followed post CAA in India through popular rallies, sit-ins, street art, threatre, PIL etc. The protests and the movements in the country following NRC and CAA, for Anupama Roy, was the recalling of the constitutional ethic of citizenship and Indian democracy which was the spirit of the constitution. The many sites of protests in the federal states of the country were sites of dissident citizenship to restore equality as a foundational principle of both the constitution and democracy.

The book thus traces the regime of citizenship in India which produces specific power structures; the NRC and the CAA giving in effect the principle of jus sanguinis more strongly in determining the citizenship of Indians, rooted in an ideology of majoritarian communitarianism. The shift from the popular consensus to an ideology of majoritarian communitarianism was strongly expressed in the recent NRC and the CAA.  These two strands of citizenship emerged from the 2003 amendment act, bringing in ethno/cultural legacy and religion as modes of determining citizenship. The author brings these arguments with the help of extensive field surveys, government reports, depositions, parliamentary and constituent assembly debates, court judgments presenting a legal and anthropological analysis in understanding the contemporary regime of Indian citizenship. The author adopted a legal-analytical framework to understand the exclusionary practices in Indian citizenship- a trend more identifiable in a neo-liberal world where people’s cultural and religious identity have become the primary sources of conflict. Looking back at the citizenship debates in the constituent assembly to the recent debates on the subject in the Indian parliament in December 2019, the author gives a striking contrast of the shift from republican democracy to majoritarian communitarianism.

From the book, it is indeed intrusive to reflect the way NRC and the CAA have strengthened and directed the nativist ideology, on the direction of religion. CAA is not just denying the Muslims the right to citizenship, but also a legal way to inculcate an ideology of anti-Muslim, who according to the present regime are not natives to this land and this is where the NRC was woven in the CAA narrative by the present regime. The NRC and CAA, most importantly have generated a kind of nativist legacy- of indigenous natives being the original citizens, indigenous meaning having ethnic and cultural practices as distinct from Muslims.

While dissident citizenship was reclaimed in the anti-CAA protests, which Roy says that it actually strengthens state sovereignty (Citizenship In India, 2016), how is it different from the popular cry and protests to detect, deport and expel out immigrants taking place in Assam over the decades. Is it appropriate to call the latter popular sovereignty? Can popular sovereignty be questioned when it comes to interpreting the NRC in Assam given that it was a popular appeal of the citizens themselves? The politics of NRC in Assam have been wielded to serve the ideology of Jaati- Maati- Bheti of the indigenous Assamese, which might not be the case in the other states of the Indian union. While it is interesting to see that the book brought out the different stories of the Indian states on the way they approached NRC and CAA, is there a need to contextualize NRC since it is based on a popular narrative or majoritarian communitarianism? Taking from this, perhaps, a strong point of the book would have been how cultural/ethnic and religious identity makes up the citizenship regimes in the neoliberal world. Though the NRC was not directly mentioned in the Assam Accord, much of it can be traced to its clause 5 which stressed on the need on detection, deletion and expulsion of foreigners in accordance with law.

While there is an argument that the bringing of the CAA made the NRC look like a futile exercise, NRC was anti-foreigner and anti-migrant, CAA was anti-Muslim. At the same time CAA escaped some criticism because it included some sections of population unlike NRC (except for Northeast India). But the common thread of the two was that both were exclusionary. While these are some important points to reflect, the study is a breakthrough in understanding citizenship regimes, laws and belongingness under the controversial NRC and CAA from wide ranging parliamentary debates to field observations which presents complex scenarios. Under the veil of a liberal state, the present regime has changed the discourse of law-making in India.

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