The Nation and its Borders

This is the abstract of the paper I was never destined to present at a seminar on “Meaning of Marginality in Modern India” which was held on 15-16 February, 2007 in Chandigarh, India.

The Nation and its Borders

A note on the historiographical struggle to constitute India

This paper uses the historiography of colonialism in India as an illustration to argue that there is a significant fault-line, or disjunction, in the manner in which India has been conceptualised as a Nation. The paper argues that not only is this a methodological weakness, it has also closed to doors for a more inclusive notion of Nationhood from developing.

The paper shows that while historians, and other social scientists, have convincingly argued that India became a Nation during, and in opposition to, colonialism, they have used the social formations of the riverine plains as the default template for defining the Indian Nation. The social formations of the agricultural communities around the great Indian rivers have implicitly been accepted as representative and sociologically normative for “India” as it emerged between the battle of Plassey and Partition. This normative template of “India” has been used to underwrite the histories of the peoples and territories of the British Raj. At most, qualifications are allowed but no space is left for the existence of a history outside this “India”.

This paper argues that about half of the geographical space today called India, was located outside this normative India. At best these areas can be termed border areas. It will look at the institutions of family, caste and at the process of State formation in one border area, Western Himalayas, to illustrate the manner in which non-Indian features were appropriated into the Indian Nation. It will also explore the possible consequences, both for academic enquiry as well as for politics, of this surreptitious inclusion of border areas into India.


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