Impure History: At the Borderland of Assam, India

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Yasmin Saikia, Arizona State University
History is as much about process as it is about politics.  Assam’s history is a case in point in India.  Made-up of multiple sub-regions, cultures, histories, groups and communities Assam thrives as a contact zone where mixing is norm, exchanges create opportunities, and everyone is infected with the contagion of sharing.  In this paper, I explore the contact zone of Assam, a hub of pre-modern flows that sustains even today.  I begin with the suggestion that Assam’s location as a geographical crossroads created overland connections between cultures and peoples of South and Southeast Asia and its heterogeneity opened up new vistas.  This is evident in shared sacred spaces, music, architecture, and language that I cast a quick look in the paper.  Assam expresses a "reflexive spirituality" (Giddens 1992) that continues to be expansive and open.  In contrast to the local accommodations, the postcolonial Indian state sees Assam as volatile and militant. 

What is the meaning of the Assam borderland today in the context of the Indian state?  How does the quest for fixity of the Indian state affect Assam?  Who defines the meaning of the symbol of borderland versus national identity?   National history, I argue, suffers from an overrationalized conception of totalization and unification through erasures - a legacy of the colonial tradition.  But Assam defies encapsulation.  I conclude that Assam serves as an intellectual bordlerland for the Indian state to take lessons from to become modern, democratic and secular.

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