Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia

Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 16 photographs, 14 maps Published: December 2013

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Religious Studies

Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia provides valuable new ethnographic insights into life along some of the most contentious borders in the world. The collected essays portray existence at different points across India's northern frontiers and, in one instance, along borders within India. Whether discussing Shi'i Muslims striving to be patriotic Indians in the Kashmiri district of Kargil or Bangladeshis living uneasily in an enclave surrounded by Indian territory, the contributors show that state borders in Northern South Asia are complex sites of contestation. India's borders with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma/Myanmar, China, and Nepal encompass radically different ways of life, a whole spectrum of relationships to the state, and many struggles with urgent identity issues. Taken together, the essays show how, by looking at state-making in diverse, border-related contexts, it is possible to comprehend Northern South Asia's various nation-state projects without relapsing into conventional nationalist accounts.

Contributors. Jason Cons, Rosalind Evans, Nicholas Farrelly, David N. Gellner, Radhika Gupta, Sondra L. Hausner, Annu Jalais, Vibha Joshi, Nayanika Mathur, Deepak K. Mishra, Anastasia Piliavsky, Jeevan R. Sharma, Willem van Schendel


"Anthropologists working on any issue of contemporary identity or politics would be well served to study this volume, as well as van Schendel's original essay and the literature it has inspired. I expect that, armed with this perspective, researchers will find more borderlands than we anticipated while also finding the entire concept of borders and the entities allegedly bounded by these borders increasingly problematic." — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

“The most interesting aspect of the volume lies in the variety and novelty of border situations yielded by this region and its diversity in terms of the nature of borders: pre-modern, modern, soft, hard, thinly or thickly populated and also geological, like mountainous or watery, plain or rugged etc.”  — Subhadra Mitra Channa, Social Anthropology

“Readers from a variety of theoretical and geographical orientations will appreciate its challenge to nation- and state-centric theorizing about borders. In this, the volume offers a most welcome addition to the literature on life where political and scholarly “areas” meet.” — Sarah Besky, American Ethnologist

"Although the history of Partition, antagonism with neighboring states, and the rich ethnic diversity of border regions make India’s borderlands a unique case, the essays in this volume speak to wider, comparative issues. The book would be significant for undergraduate and graduate courses on South Asia and India, anthropologies of the state, and comparative border studies." — Chad Haines, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia is an excellent collection of essays. It not only provides new empirical detail for comparative studies of borderlands globally, but also contributes to South Asian studies broadly conceived, to Indian border studies, and to local social, cultural, and political histories of all the constituent border regions of Northern South Asia." — David E. Ludden, author of Where Is Assam? Using Geographical History to Locate Current Social Realities

"How better to transcend received wisdom about boundaries than by examining the tangled, puzzling, and mind-boggling variety of the 'frayed borders' between South Asia and its northern periphery? Originality, conceptual daring, and penetrating ethnographies undergird both the idea behind this volume and its execution. Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia marks a new stage in the scholarly literature on borders, puts the nation-state in its (modest) place, and will serve as an inspiring and reflective point of intellectual departure for the field."
— James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

"The ubiquity of borders makes them key sites for comparative social research. . . . If there is one thing that the contributions to this book demonstrate, it is that borders vary locally in terms of regulatory regimes, symbolic significance, permeability, social advantage, and change over time. . . . Until recently . . . social scientists showed very little interest in studying [the borders of Northern South Asia]—let alone in studying them comparatively. As this book shows, that neglect is now a thing of the past." — Willem van Schendel, from the afterword


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David N. Gellner is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He is the editor of Varieties of Activist Experience: Civil Society in South Asia and Ethnic Activism and Civil Society in South Asia and coeditor (with Krishna Hachhethu) of Local Democracy in South Asia: Microprocesses of Democratization in Nepal and Its Neighbours.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Introduction. Northern South Asia's Diverse Borders, from Kachchh to Mizoram / David N. Gellner 1

1. Borders without Borderlands: On the Social Reproduction of State Demarcation in Rajasthan / Anastasia Piliavsky 24

2. Allegiance and Alienation: Border Dynamics in Kargil / Radhika Gupta 47

3. Naturalizing the Himalaya-as-Border in Uttarakhand / Nayanika Mathur 72

4. On the Way to India: Nepali Rituals of Border Crossing / Sondra L. Hausner and Jeevan R. Sharma 94

5. The Perils of Being a Borderland People: On the Lhotshampas of Bhutan / Rosalind Evans 117

6. Developing the Border: The State and the Political Economy of Development in Arunachal Pradesh / Deepak K. Mishra 141

7. The Micropolitics of Borders: The Issue of Greater Nagaland (or Nagalim) / Vibha Joshi 163

8. Nodes of Control in a South(east) Asian Borderland / Nicholas Farrelly 194

9. Histories of Belonging(s): Narrating Territory, Possession, and Dispossession at the India-Bangladesh Border / Jason Cons 214

10. Geographies and Identities: Subaltern Partition Stories along Bengal's Southern Frontier / Annu Jalais 245

Afterword. Making the Most of "Sensitive" Borders / Willem van Schendel 266

Contributors 273

Bibliography 277

Index 303

Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Maldives & S. Asia, incl. Myanmar

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5556-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5542-7
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