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New Challenges and Unending Puzzles


Udayon Misra

FRONTIER IN FLAMES: NORTH EAST INDIA IN TURMOIL
Edited by Jaideep Saikia
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2007, pp. xxxiv 205, Rs. 450.00

ETHNIC LIFE-WORLDS IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: AN ANALYSIS
By Presenjit Biswas and Chandan Suklabaidya
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2007, pp. 312, Rs. 595.00

THE BODOS: EMERGENCE AND ASSERTION OF AN ETHNIC MINORITY
By Sujit Chaudhury
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 2007, pp. vi 166, Rs. 300.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

These three books deal with diverse aspects of the ethnic life-worlds, insurgency and autonomy movements in India’s North East. While the volume edited by Jaideep Saikia primarily focuses on the security aspect vis-à-vis the different militant struggles in the region, Biswas and Suklabaidya try to analyse how cultural politics becomes a key determinant of the ethnic struggles for identity and autonomy. Sujit Chaudhury’s work deals with the different phases in the history of the Bodos, their assertion as a major ethnic group and the inner dynamics and contradictions within the movement for the Bodo autonomy.   Frontier in Flames is a collection of eleven articles dealing with the militant movements in six of the seven (eight with Sikkim) states which make up the construct, ‘Northeast’. In his introductory remarks, Saikia rightly refers to New Delhi’s tactlessness and insensitivity in dealing with a region that is central to the nation’s security. He accuses New Delhi of not having any policy regarding the region and refers to New Delhi’s ‘lack of trust’ as the principal explanation for the region’s non-integration with the rest of India. Surely, apart from a continuing colonial mindset operating in North Block, there are also other potent historical and economic reasons that have added to the growing hiatus between the North East and New Delhi. The volume opens with an essay by Patricia Mukhim which deals with the rise of militancy in the once peaceful Meghalaya. Mukhim, in her usual engaging style, traces the roots of militant politics to the feeling of separateness from the rest of India, although it is difficult to accept her argument that it was only after 1947 that ‘what is called the North East today became a part of “India” only about sixty years ago’. If one were to accept this argument, then the centuries-old socio-cultural relationship of Assam with the rest of the Indian sub-continent would have to be forgotten as also its active participation in the freedom struggle.   Mukhim discusses the changes that have taken place in Khasi-Jaintia society and the failure of the political leadership to fulfill the people’s expectations. She sees a way out of the present crisis through the strengthening of traditional institutions and says that these must be helped to become ‘more inclusive instruments of governance’ as they are ‘the only link between the people in villages and the formal structures ...


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