Society and Identity
This panel focuses on ethno-territoriality understood firstly as a concept of groups as being bounded to a specific territory. Ethno-territoriality is also a means in claims for control over resources and people by ethnic actors. Today, by claiming a specific link to the land, groups seek citizenship rights and/or social benefits. The idea of ‘ethnic homeland’ also allows the political class of ‘iconic’ local ethnic communities to secure for themselves durable political control of the territory in several north-east Indian states. Consequently, ethno-territoriality fixes dividing lines between insiders and outsiders, and determines membership to the political community, as against the principles of democratic citizenship.
Alternatively, linkages to land provide an important cultural motif for the many cultural and linguistic disenfranchised minorities of Asia, including North-East India, whose ancestral rights to land and related resources are being threatened by the combined forces of neoliberal capitalism and the state. Ethno-territorial claims and sentiments provide the ground to resist the onslaught of such forces, also since ethnic and notably indigenous rights are internationally recognised.
The aim of the panel is to open a multi-disciplinary discussion informed by regional and theoretical comparative concerns on the conditions of emergence of this idea of a specific bound of ethnic groups to the territory, its various expressions in the region today, and the tensions it produces. Ethno-territoriality unfolds in various ways, starting with the colonial bio-cultural representation of ethnicity and the geo-cultural differentiation between hill tribes and plain people in Northeast India and its neighbouring regions. In this regard, the comparison to neighbouring areas is central to highlight the particular anchoring of ethno-territoriality into colonialism and post-colonialism.
This panel includes ten papers focusing on North-east Indian states (Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Assam) and the Kachin State of neighbouring Burma (closely related to the Singphos of India). The main points of comparison between the forms ethno-territoriality take in these states and regions will be the reinforcement of territorial boundaries and the idea of ethnic homeland as means of access to political power for the political classes, alternative views to ethno-territoriality, the colonial construction of ethno-territoriality, and the transformation of groups cultural and economic practices in relation to the definition of ethno-territoriality.