With the Northeast in considerable turmoil over the NRC-CAA conundrum, Sanjib Baruah’s new book, ‘In the Name of the Nation: India and Its Northeast’ (published by Stanford University Press) seems to have hit the market at just about the right time.
But it is priced too high for the Indian market (Amazon is offering it at Rs 2234) and Stanford University Press would need to tie up soon with an Indian publisher to provide a cheaper Indian edition.
Only then can such a wonderfully written and well argued book makes sense to India and its people who grapple with the riddle called ‘Northeast’.
Baruah stands out as a shining academic star because he is from the Northeast (Assam to be precise) but has the benefit to look at the region from a distance (he teaches in New York).
So, in a way, he is both an insider and an outsider, capable of feeling his way through the region’s many faultlines but also able to place it in a larger national- and regional-perspective.
The tragedy is that this outstanding scholar, who had come and set up a research outfit CENISEAS within the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development , could not survive the ‘academic politics’ of Guwahati and had to return to Bard College in New York where he has been teaching for a long long time.
But even during his short tenure in Guwahati, Baruah not only brought together a wide array of scholars ( who wrote wonderful research papers for CENISEAS) and organized thought-provoking seminars (sans the ceremoniality) but also nurtured a new generation of bright scholars who have done excellent work and impacted the academic discourse on Northeast in a profound way.
One could only wish that Sanjib Baruah is brought back to Northeast (Guwahati or Shillong) to set up a world class social science research institute with adequate funding – and some of his proteges also make their way back to help create a great research environment unaffected by the intense conflicts raging in the region.
Because any process of conflict resolution can only work if the understanding of the problem(s) is unbiased and clear .
Since the new citizenship regime that the BJP is seeking to put in place has created a volatile situation in India’s Northeast, Baruah’s book will be a welcome read for anyone interested in understanding the enormous complexities of society and politics in the far frontier region.
For Indians, it provides a rich understanding to the ‘troubled periphery’ of the country which Baruah had, in a previous book, described from a ‘durable disorder’ syndrome.
A very brief excerpt from Baruah’s book, provided below, will provide the background that will make clear why the BJP’s new citizenship regime has run into considerable opposition in Northeast, specially in Assam.
It is important for India’s present rulers to avoid seeing the whole nation and its complex dynamics, especially in a unusually complicated and diverse region like the Northeast, through the religious Hindu-Muslim binary.
The book is a must for all who want to have a better understanding of Northeast – but Baruah must get his American publisher to tie up with an Indian publisher so that his countrymen can buy a cheaper Indian edition.
Excerpts from ‘In the name of the Nation: India and its Northeast’
That Partition generated a massive new flow of Hindus into India is well known. What is less well-known — and contrary to the expectations of the architects of Partition — is that it did not stop an old pattern of migration from densely populated deltaic eastern Bengal into relatively sparsely populated Northeast India: that of poor Muslim peasants in search of land and livelihoods.
The legal status of migrants from across the border remains a controversial issue in India… Hindu Partition refugees do not generally occupy a minoritized space in most parts of India. It is relatively easy for them to integrate into local society… But in Northeast India, the challenge has played out very differently for two reasons. First, both migration from eastern Bengal and opposition to it in this settlement frontier began well before 1947.
Second, there is the “forgotten story of India’s Partition” — that of the district of Sylhet. This region — a part of Bangladesh today — was a district of the province of Assam before it became a part of East Pakistan in 1947. The status of this Bengali-speaking region was a controversial issue in the politics of colonial Assam.
Assamese Hindu political leaders of the Indian National Congress advocated its separation from Assam well before Partition. In some Sylheti Hindu Partition refugee narratives, they bear more responsibility for Sylhet becoming a part of Pakistan than even Muslim League politicians that fought for a separate Pakistan.
A significant segment of Northeast India’s population bears the burden of the inter-generational trauma and memories of the partitioned geography of Sylhet. Not surprisingly, there is among them a very different view of this history — and its implications for post-Partition India — from that in the rest of Northeast India.