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In the Deconstructionist Mode


Sajal Nag

BECOMING A BORDERLAND: THE POLITICS OF SPACE AND IDENTITY IN COLONIAL NORTHEASTERN INDIA
By Sanghamitra Misra
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp.236, 695.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 2 February 2012

North East India is mostly written about in connection with the politics of space and identity. Here is another one dealing with the same subject. But Sanghamitra Misra's work is a book with a difference. The difference is mostly due to its treatment of the subject and also the space in which the study is located. Written in the post-colonial deconstructionist mode of history writing and the use of conventional archival as well as unconventional sources have given a fresh dimension to the theme. Goalpara is a very low profile District of Assam. North East India in general and Assam in particular is constantly in the news even though for the wrong reasons. But Goalpara is hardly ever heard of. Sanghamitra Mishra picked up this sleepy 'borderland' and pene-trated its apparently calm exterior to bring out the deep churning this nondescript place has actually undergone in last two to three centu-ries. Goalpara despite being just a small dis-trict of Assam province had historical linkages with Tibet, Bhutan, Bengal, Coochbihar, and finally Assam.  From 'an anomalous Mughal frontier into a distinct local space.... (to a) fragmental zone of dependent and independent polities and bounded political units of the colonial state... (to a) colonial borderland... reduce(ing) it to a marginal realm of colonial cores.' Indeed, Goalapara was an unusual space. Surrounded by the states of Tibet and Bhutan, two expanding states like the Ahoms and Mughals on two sides of the neighbourhood, inhabited by myriad tribal autochthones, a strong sedentarized peasantry, innumerable chieftaindoms, the massive landscape of dense forests and equally dense wildlife all converged to make a critical zone. The author was able to capture this diversity vividly and the problem it presented either for agrarianization or for polity formation. However, along with other areas of the region, Goalpara evolved an auto-nomous polity under the Koches. Ecology, autochthones and peasant groups were interes-tingly integrated to the political economy of state making by the Koches in a troubled frontier region.  The Koches however did not survive the expansionist designs of the Mughal imperia. A series of expeditions yielded the defeat of partial absorption of Kochbihar, Goalpara and Duars into the Mughal Empire which made it part of the political economic processes of the Mughal Empire. The agra-rianization also resulted in peasant discontent and consequent resistance movement reflecting an amazing fluidity of history in this limited space.  The colonial intervention in ...


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