Disturbed area acts [electronic resource] : anxiety, intimacy, and the state in Northeast India
- Dolly Kikon.
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- This dissertation is an ethnographic account of the communities who live in the foothill border between the states of Assam and Nagaland in Northeast India. It is an ethnographic account of how residents negotiate the overlapping claims over the foothills between the states of Assam and Nagaland. My dissertation argues that the foothills are key to understanding two important processes: (a) state-making in contemporary India, where ethnic states have become a reality since the formation of Nagaland in 1963; (b) the many unheralded, though significant ways in which people in the foothills transgress and embrace the cultural and political roles ascribed to them by the modern state and its actors (that include bureaucrats, security personnel, politicians, insurgents and technocrats). My focus is on the daily interactions and tensions in the foothills that, at first glance, fall into two categories: (a) practices of state agencies who regulate the foothill border and officials who oversee the infrastructures such as security check gates, tax collection booths, schools, and roads in the disputed foothill border; (b) practices of residents of the foothills, upland villages in Nagaland and the neighboring villages in the Brahmaputra plains of Assam, who negotiate everyday social and economic dynamics such as labor relations, settlement claims, and trading practices in the contentious foothill landscape. The foothills are a precarious and militarized zone marked by the presence of military forces, competing insurgent groups, and extra-constitutional regulations. A dominant methodological framework applied to study Northeast India focuses on violence and militarization. As a consequence, a focus on violence has often overshadowed the ordinary lives and everyday experiences of people who live in such places. My dissertation examines how the mundane negotiations of foothill residents, evident in their economic and social interactions, constitute complex calculations that range from alliances between ethnic groups to various systems of patronage and power relations. I argue that these everyday practices in the foothills that appear to exist as two distinct categories I noted above, namely, (a) as state practices and (b) the social lives of foothill residents, are in reality intertwined where the primary distinctions between what constitutes the citizens and the state are moral ones. I show how these categories overlap and lead to an intertwined everyday relationships between the state and its citizens. This in turn produces an understanding of how claims about authority and sovereignty are often unresolved, as foothill residents negotiate and "play" with the multiple manifestations of the state -- as Assam, Nagaland, and India -- by simultaneously legitimizing and de-legitimizing its authority in the disputed foothill border. Inherent is a paradox in which foothill residents constantly invoke the state as something that is exterior to their lives and the moral universe they inhabit. Everything that is bad, corrupt, and dysfunctional is blamed on the state. Yet, they also define and list down the characteristics of a model state, as they describe their sufferings and blame the "bad" state for their existing misery. My project investigates what the state means for people who must negotiate diverse, contradictory, and contentious state practices and imaginaries in the foothill border between Assam and Nagaland in Northeast India.
- Publication date
- Submitted to the Department of Anthropology.
- Ph.D. Stanford University 2013
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