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Beyond Monolithic Frameworks

Aparna Balachandran

By Rita Kothari
Orient BlackSwan, Noida, 2013, pp. 181, price not stated.


Rita Kothari’s book focuses on Banni, a small region in northern Kutch that ‘interrupts the idea of Gujarat as a linguistically, culturally and politically cohesive territory with bounded citizenship’ (p. 3). Kutch, which became a district in the linguistic state of Gujarat in 1960 is marked by a long history of mobility and migration that questions the idea of the homogeneity of Gujarat that is an essential and recurring feature of the government’s discourse today. Banni is an even starker example of this phenomenon. Today, the modern state heralds the distinctiveness of Kutch in terms of its natural beauty and spectacular arts and crafts—but it does not acknowledge the ways in which the region challenges the notion of Gujarat as linguistically and culturally coherent.   In fact, there are few regions in India (or elsewhere) that fit easily into monolithic frameworks that derive from a hegemonic understanding of the nation state. Border areas make this phenomenon that much more visible and dramatic, and this book looks at the marginalization of the nature of Banni identity by the state on the one hand, and at the cultural imaginary of the people of Banni on the other. It discusses the ways in which the inhabitants of Banni experience and negotiate Gujarat, the Indian nation, and borders themselves—physical and cultural. The locus of this imaginary is Sindh, which shares an enduring cultural and linguistic civilizational unity with the regions of Saurashtra, Rajasthan and Kutch. This connection with Sindh—particularly profoundly felt and experienced by the people of Banni—is of course an illegitimate one, rendered unspeakable by its location in present-day Pakistan. In the case of Banni, its distance from what is legitimate is heightened by its predominantly Muslim pastoralist population.   Kothari deals with her subject in five interrelated chapters which describe the post- Independence state’s attempts to delineate and classify the region and its inhabitants resulting in the transformation of quotidian passages into cross-border movements; and the complexities of identities that are constructed through linguistic and cultural relations with Sindh with particular reference to the experience of dalits, women, and the Wadha community. It is Kothari’s discussion of the pastoralist economy of Banni that this reviewer found most interesting. Historically, pastoralism has been central to the economy and the self understanding of communities in Banni—fascinatingly, for instance, the purity of the cattle breed is linked to a pure ...

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