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Socio-historical and Cultural Linkages

Amit Prakash

By Lalit Kumar Barua
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 2006, pp. xiii 262, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 11 November 2006

The volume under review examines the interlinkages between education and culture in Northeast India using a socio-historical and cultural lens. The author argues that the erstwhile province of undivided Assam’s trajectory of development of education was quite different from the rest of India owing to the delayed growth of western and higher education in Assam. This in turn had a significant impact on the evolution of Assamese culture, identity and society.   Taking this theme forward, chapter one examines the impact of the interaction of emerging Assamese intelligentsia with western literature and philosophy. It dwells in detail on the broad patterns of evolution of the Bengal renaissance and its interaction with western science, knowledge and philosophy. While the bulk of the discussion in this chapter is a narrative of Indian renaissance, it puts forth the broad contours of the explorations of 19th and 20th century cultural and literary processes in Assam, which is developed in the chapters that follow. The author argues that “nearly three decades of educated elite in Orissa and Assam derived their mental make-up and intellectual aspirations by their study of English language and contacts with Bengali intelligentsia …” The author also argues (rather contrarily) that the Assamese “also nurtured their own native traditions and culture, and felt responsible to their language and tradition…” (p. 17), which led to the emergence of many great personalities of Assamese literature such as Lakshminath Bezbaroa. Commenting that the contours of Assamese identity was premised on language, literature and culture (instead of ethnicity) was rooted in contesting imposition of Bengali as medium of instruction, the author offers no evidence to support the claim.   Discussing ‘Northeast India in the Nineteenth Century’ in chapter 2, the author locates the discussion in its historical perspective by examining the main features and impact of the policies followed in Assam and its continuities and fractures with those in rest of India. Offering a politico-historical narrative of the region, it is argued that a “sense of cultural identity was not a product of colonial forces; it was not confined to the elite” but can be traced to the “fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which gave it a different kind of historical weightage” (p .48). It must however be confessed that the evidence cited to support this argument is rather thin and it seems that the policy of exclusion followed in the Northeast by the colonial administration (which has been seen as a ...

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