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Troubled Land

Yasmin Saikia

By Pahi Saikia
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 231, Rs.695


The dominant scholarship on India’s North East is focused on the study of militancy and violence in the region. The concern of scholars, by and large, has been to understand and explain the conditions, circumstances and background driving the agendas of local identity movements, their grievances leading to radicalization in the public sphere, and the politics of militancy and their outcomes (Baruah 2005; Misra 2000; Hazarika 1994; Nag 1990). Pahi Saikia’s book, Ethnic Mobilisation and Violence in Northeast India is located within this established genre of North East India study. The primary focus of the book is three tribal ethnic movements: the Bodo, Dimasa and Mising, and the strategies adopted by each of these groups to highlight their demands for recognition of their ethnicity and rights. In particular, the author is interested in the strategies and methods of violence as well as nonviolence adopted by the three groups and their outcome. Central in this exploration are a few questions: What are the tribal ethnic groups contesting about? What are their strategies for achieving their demands? Why are some groups susceptible to adopting violent means and others are not? These questions are not new in the study of India’s North East, but Pahi Saikia offers her readers a succinct narrative for understanding the complex relationship between the ‘tribal’ groups and the dominant Assamese community and the tensions that undergrid their interactions based on asymmetrical cultural power; the Assamese have until now reigned supreme in the region and in consequence marginalized the ‘tribal’ communities, she argues. The lack of communication and respect on the part of the Assamese toward tribal groups is at the root of the struggle for new identities by different groups, such as the Bodos, Dimasas and Misings, Saikia concludes. Assam has a rich tribal history constituted by 23 tribal groups that make up nearly 13% of the population. Within this mosaic of tribal communities, the Bodos form the largest group at nearly 44% of the total tribal population. The two other groups that are the focus of this study, the Misings constitute 16% of the population and the Dimasas are much lesser at 2.3% of the population. Curiously, demography is not the compelling factor determining the visibility and success of the groups. The minority Dimasa group adopted violence to forge their demands radicalizing the movement that made it quite prominent for a brief moment. What other factors contributed to the success and failure of ...

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