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Gender Dimension in the Security Discourse

Pamela Philipose

Edited by Paula Banerjee
Sage, Delhi, 2010, pp. 253, Rs. 650.00


The recent violence marking Kashmir’s long summer of discontent is just one more reason why borders need to be studied and under- stood. In Borders, Histories, Existences: Gender and Beyond, Paula Banerjee, head of the Department of South and South East Asian Studies, University of Calcutta, not only trains the light on territory less travelled, she does it through a multi-layered approach that encapsulates geography, history, politics and gender. The countries of South Asia continue to bear the footprint of the departing colonial state, not just in their constitutions and political institutions, but in the sometimes extremely arbitrarily drawn borders that define them today. Banerjee carefully reconstructs the history of borders in South Asia and how they came to be an ‘essential characteristic for modern state formation’. By and large, border making under the British Raj followed the three stages that S.B. Jones had observed: establishment, demarcation and control of borders. However, these by no means constituted a seamless and peaceful continuum. Conflict and repression marked the process and something as foundational as demarcation proved to be full of unfortunate accidents and historical ironies. The tragic repercussions of Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s exercise in delineating the borders of India and Pakistan—in regions he never actually visited—are with us to this day. Apart from drawing maps, there was the parallel tightening of the security regime. In the first chapter of the book, entitled ‘Aliens in the Colonial World’, Banerjee provides a succinct account of how the concept of ‘aliens’ emerged in the South Asian context. India was the site of various population flows—and the African presence in the Deccan from the 6th century ad onwards is just one example. It was the British who introduced the idea of the ‘alien’ in their attempts to control population movements and thereby those they regarded as hostile to their interests. Banerjee quotes the noted historian Chris Bayly’s observation that ‘nomads and wanderers were seen as disorderly elements’ under the first Foreigners Act of 1864. As the years passed, the controls only increased. The Government of India Act of 1919 provided the central government with the authority to decide the rules deciding entry and 20 years later the Registration of Foreigners Act came into being, even as the world was on the threshold of World War II, which created a community of people referred to as ‘refugees’ for the first time in ...

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