Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017

Sucharita Sengupta

[As a part of my research on Conflict and Social Governance in North East India (Principal researcher Prof. Paula Banerjee), I went to Nagaland for 10 days between May 1 and May 10, 2017.[i] This field report, written immediately after coming back from Nagaland is based on interviews and informal conversations conducted in Dimapur and Kohima.]

It was 7pm on a Monday, when I came out of the office of Morung Express, a well circulated daily of Nagaland, after interacting with one of their journalists, Aheli Moitra. Morung Express has provided a platform to scholars and activists involved in the new protest movements within the state. It was the first day of my field visit and also the first time when fear gripped me. Completely immersed in darkness, the road ahead was deserted, with no transport in sight. Aheli was unperturbed and helped me get an auto, which charged almost double to commute back to the hotel. Answering my protests to the increased fare, the driver said in Hindi, if translated which means, “It’s not safe here madam in the evenings, and you won’t find transport to take you back, so I am charging you double”. “Why”? I asked. “Things are much better now, so why do you say it’s still unsafe”? “Madam, there is no guarantee and the people here (read Nagas) always target the outsiders like us”. The auto driver, Shambhu, was a resident of Bihar. I reflected back to my conversation with Aheli on the same evening, some time back. Aheli is a Bengali by birth, and has been raised in various parts of India, which prompted me to ask, where does she situate herself in the state? Does she feel safe being an ‘outsider’ there? Her answer was, “Of course. More than I would in Bengal. There are no problems in Nagaland, especially regarding the safety of women. There is not a single problem that I have faced in my last three years in the state. I am happy with my work here. Only at times I crave to go back to the proper city life as everything is so quiet here”. From my experience of touring Nagaland in the next ten days, I had to agree with Aheli. I was helped by every stranger I met and interacted with, although a nagging discomfort of working on a subject that rarely evokes empathy remained through out the field work. Continue reading “Through my Lens: Field Notes from a Trip to Nagaland in May 2017”

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Shifting homes and a troubled past— Understanding enclave existences of the Indo- Bangla borders

 

Deboleena Sengupta

The borderland is not just a straight-line, but a way of life for the borderlanders—a space to adapt, reject and negotiate with the interests of two sovereign nations.

way to Chhit Bangla

On 8 October 2016, my friend and I reached Chhit Bangla (also known as Chhit– Tiloi), which used to be a fragmented territory of Bangladesh that fell in India. This place currently overlaps Char Balabhut which falls under Tufangaj, a sub division of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. Bits of the land are further fragmented at places by Dhubri district of Assam. The Char (meaning a sandbar or river island) is separated from the mainland by the ‘International waters’. Across the waters, in Chhit– Bangla we met a woman, introduced as Kaushinmoi Bewa, the sole inhabitant of the region, who lived there with her daughter.

Kaushinmoi

[Kaushinmoi] Continue reading “Shifting homes and a troubled past— Understanding enclave existences of the Indo- Bangla borders”

‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty

[Note from the author: The backdrop of the discussion in this article is the native Nepali speaking people in India and their quest to cartographically chart their emic self-defined identity in a map called Gorkhaland in and around Darjeeling in the directional construct ‘North Bengal’ located in the Indian state of West Bengal. As a geopolitical space Darjeeling has reflected immense tensions amidst the phased calm and phased uncalm in the form of demand for Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland. The Chiyasi ko Andolan (1986 Movement) and the current imbroglio  (stretched from 2007 to 2017) though showing signs of peculiarities and particularities in terms of the movement, styles of leadership, political agency ,participations etc., continues to showcase commonalities, connections, and continuations in the indelible question of identity of the people and its place. Chuttei Rajya (separate state) of Gorkhaland is projected as the panacea for all prevailing problems of its people ranging from being stateless, neglected, misconstrued and misrepresented (as Durwans, Security guards etc), branded as ‘foreigners’ (confused to be from Nepal), called ‘Chinky’ (confused to be from North East India) etc. Though a popular tourist destination, globally known for ‘Darjeeling Tea’, idyllic backdrop of many Bollywood movies (and feeding into the romanticised visual social imaginaries of the South Asia) the region continues to be geographically misconstrued. The simple question ‘where is Darjeeling?’ can uncork startling responses and confusions: few presuming it to be in Assam (a clear confusion because of the ‘Tea’ factor); while others considering it to be a part of Nepal and trying to use Nepalese Rupee; and still others focusing on the historical connections with Sikkim etc. Another difficult question ‘Whom does Darjeeling belong to (territorially, politically, culturally, socially)?’ evokes vexed responses: while the Chuttei Rajya narrative claims its deep seated autonomy enmeshed in cultural, social, linguistic differences; those against ‘Bangavanga’ (division of West Bengal) claim Darjeeling to be the ‘crown’ of the state of ‘Sonar Bangla’. These responses do little to quench the thirst and curiosity of the questioner. I am of the view that if Darjeeling could speak for itself (like the Bollywood song sung by the late Mahendra Kapoor ‘Ye Mati Sabhi Ki Kahani Kahegi’ (Lyrics: Bharat Vyas. Music: Ramachandra. Soundtrack in V. Shantaram, dir. (1959). Navrang. India) the response might unleash startling rethinking, positional shifts and realignments. The current imbroglio in the ‘hills’ needs to be understood silhouetted on these seemingly disparate issues and problems.]

The evolution of martial race[i]– ‘Bir[ii] Gorkha’ (the brave invincible Gurkha)[iii] in South Asia and India in particular is embossed and engraved deeply into the history of the Raj (the British colonial government that ruled India in various forms over two centuries) and the Raj making. The ever changing borders, frontiers and spaces of the Raj witnessed the flow of a multitude of people/races/ethnicities/religions etc.[iv] The ‘traditional’[v] territorial spaces were traversed, turned inside out, made malleable to the demands and visions of the Raj. This meant that communities/people were coming to an interface more strongly at a faster pace amidst the wave of multidimensional change in transports, administration- security (artillery, war craft, defence, military intervention etc.) just to name a few. This also meant that communities/people were slowly yet surely by want/choice, force/coercion becoming categorized as ‘citizens’, ‘subjects’, ‘denizens’, ‘enemies’, ‘foreigners’, ‘interlopers’ and the like. The colonial census projects, studies of administrators doubling as anthropologists, surveyors, the missionaries and the numerous retinue of experts (white/European/American) and informant natives (the elites, the traditional privileged sections, mostly men) resulted in the creation/ construction of stereotypes and social imaginaries of communities/people in South Asia. Continue reading “‘Ekrupata Namkaran’ and the Nepali speaking people in South Asia: The problem and challenges of finding an appropriate collective representational nomenclature”

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