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From Colonial To Contemporary Times


Manjeet Baruah

THE CAMERA AS WITNESS: A SOCIAL HISTORY OF MIZORAM, NORTHEAST INDIA
By Joy L.K. Pachuau  and Willem van Schendel
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 502, Rs. 992.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 5 May 2015

As a narrative which relies on photo­graphs to communicate, The Camera as Witness is a remarkable book of his­tory. Possibly one of the first academic his­tory writings of its kind on North East In­dia, it traces the history of Mizoram from the colonial to the contemporary times. Comprising more than four hundred images, many of which are rare, the book is divided into four sections. They are Becom­ing Mizo, Mizoram in the New India, Vi­sions of Independence and Mizo Moderni­ties. There are twenty-four chapters between the four sections, the longest section being the first one which focuses on the colonial period.Though the book is generally on Mizoram, it is also treated as an illustration to write the social history of North East In­dia. Thus, some of the processes as they un­folded in Mizoram are also taken as represen­tative of wider trends in the rest of the region. As a work of social history, the book can be broadly divided into two components. On the one hand is the set of methodological understandings, through which the narra­tive moves forward. On the other hand is the range of images which both illustrate the narration as well as constitute the narrative. Regarding the methodological under­standings, the primary focus appears to be how one would write a social history of people inhabiting the hills, especially if their social and cultural articulations differ markedly from the general pan Indian phenomena.The introductory paragraphs of quite a few chap­ters begin thus. For example, issues such as adoption of transcreated Christianity, idioms of western­ization, or the idea of social space are shown to require different tools of understanding. The book, therefore, demonstrates how the general spread of Christianity in Mizoram can only be understood in the context of its transcreation frames. This phenomenon is called Mizo Christianity. Similarly, the popu­larity of idioms of westernization was more of indigenized articulations of cultural and social expressions borrowed from exposure to European and American frames.This phe­nomenon is called Mizo Modernity. In other words, the local intervened in the appropria­tion of what was not local, and the meaning of the social thereby can only be explained in or through this process of appropriation and meaning creation. In the book, the primary context that is shown to cause or explain the above process ...


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