Deploying "Regionality" in Aid of Disloyal Indigenes: Notes from the Indo-Afghan Frontier

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM
Williford A (Hilton Chicago)
Abhilash Medhi, Brown University
The discursive category of the tribe is a vexed one in the historiography of the Indo-Afghan frontier. At the heart of this problem lies a conception of the tribe as a bounded entity and an insistence on drawing upon genealogy to explain why members of a social group may be loyal, at various times, to their clan or tribe and disloyal to anyone perceived as an outsider. This paper questions an overwhelming tendency within the colonial archive to view tribes from the Indo-Afghan frontier and particularly the Pashtuns as an amalgamation of already formed social groups, destined to always act as collectives. I do so by introducing the concept of ‘regionality’ which stresses on the specificity of human interaction with their physical environments and the different political-economic and socio-cultural life worlds so engendered. Using colonial records and ethnographies, and the Pashto poems of Amir Hamza Shinwari and the Khyber School, I demonstrate how tribal identities, as also a new politics of subjectivity, were forged in the region by social, economic, infrastructural, and juridical realities born out of the colonial encounter. These identities, I argue, developed by accretion not evolution. I also suggest that de-emphasizing agnatic attachments and embracing spatial concepts from critical geography may be one way to disentangle the representational tensions—mostly of a colonial provenance but also internalized over time—that encumber the figure of the tribal within histories of the Indo-Afghan frontier.
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