Friday, December 13, 2019

Northeast: A site of unsettling diversity
IFP Bureau | Updated: November 12, 2019 13:28:39 pm

Most of the “nationality” claims by the ethnic communities are extremely fragile. It is not merely because the idea of nation that these claimants (ethnic groups) aspire is a modern concept, but also that there is a lively exercise of ethnic groups re-identifying themselves in the light of several new categories and relationships. Since national aspiration is a modern ethos, the ethnic groups are constantly struggling to adapt and own the spirit of nationalism of their own community, and even at times expand it – all these in the backdrop of a traditional and/or tribal worldviews and ways of life. It is a practical problem of nation making (many terms it ‘sub-national’) in the region.  Naga identity, for instance, is a very lively category constantly being worked upon in the light of shaping a national identity. Take even the relatively complex categories such as ‘Ahom’, ‘Assamese’, ‘Ahomiya’, and ‘Axomiya’. These are not merely differences in spellings, but each term carries certain political overtone or “point of view” of how a group of people should be known. Each of these terms carries different senses/meanings.

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These exercises have become a good site of phenomenological reading of how identity formation is always in the “becoming”. Identities are not fixed and final; finality lies only in the aspiration of the claimants. Fixity of identity lies only where it is seen as a projected goal, say in what a community projects itself as. It is when identity politics starts operating that the fixity turns into life, into fluidity. Fluidity is the mark of being alive. While this is a general phenomenon witnessed in every nationality claim, the region displays deeper complexity. The region witnesses sharp contestations of projected identities. Conflicts are witnessed among multiple ways of life and identity projections of each of these communities/tribes. Most of the communities continue with shifting projection of identities. When even bigger communities like the Assamese continue with multiple projection of self-identity, the smaller ethnic communities show much fragility in such projections.

Also Read: Media, populism and hyper-nationalism

Change as a form of “becoming” so far as a community projects its identity is conceptually an act of interiorization. Even when such an exercise happens, it is not so much an issue to worry about. Change and diversification is part of not only an individual’s life but of the community. The real issue arises when claim or assertion of one community is opposed and contested by another community. The dynamics of diversity arises when such a situation comes to the fore. What is significant is that the region’s “unsettling diversity” lies on the kind of contestations and conflicting claims these ethnic communities are engaged with. Conflict highlights the unsettling of diverse views and ways of life. Northeast India unfortunately or fortunately continues to be a site of this unsettling diversity.

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