Article

“WE ARE SONS OF THIS SOIL”

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Abstract

Since the 1990s, the upsurge of multiple “sons-of-the-soil” conflicts all over the world has reopened academic debate about the rise of nativism, the role of ethnicity, and the alleged crisis of citizenship within the postcolonial state. Often the renewed claim for belonging versus exclusion under the vernacular of “autochthony” is seen as a reactionary attempt to counter the de-rooting of identity within the neoliberal globalizing context. This article makes the case that at the base of many homeland disputes lie too powerfully territorialized (ethnic) identities and the enduring but highly selective reaffirmation of such “natural” geo-cultural links —by both local political agents and state. In the Indian state of Assam, the struggle over indigenous homelands has not been a cry for closure within the engulfing globalizing world, but the result of sustained, yet ambivalent politics of identification, classification, and ethnographic mapping through which the colony and post-colony have sought to reshape the political landscape of India's Northeast. This selective but highly mobilizing politics of autochthony has not only extolled fierce struggle between “indigenous” and “fake autochthon” communities over the protection and demarcation of indigenous homeland, it has also engendered fierce conflict amongst autochthon groups about the degree of indigeneity required to claim a separate homeland of their own.

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striking aspect of recent developments in Africa is that democratization seems to trigger a general obsession with autochthony and ethnic citizenship invariably defined against “strangers”— that is, against all those who “do not really belong.” Thus political liberalization leads, somewhat paradoxically, to an intensification of the politics of belonging: fierce debates on who belongs where, violent exclusion of “strangers” (even if this refers to people with the same nationality who have lived for generations in the area), and a general affirmation of roots and origins as the basic criteria of citizenship and belonging. Such obsessions are all the more striking since historians and anthropologists used to qualify African societies as highly inclusive, marked by an emphasis on “wealth-in-people” (in contrast to Europe’s “wealth-in-things”) and a wide array of institutional mechanisms for including people (adoption, fosterage, the broad range of classificatory kinship terminology). In many African political formations, prior to liberalization there was an important social distinction between autochthons and allochthons, but its implications were strikingly different from today. Often rulers came from allochthon clans who emphasized their origin from elsewhere, yet had privileged access to political positions. Since the late 1980s, in contrast, autochthony has become a powerful slogan to exclude the Other, the allogène, the stranger. Political liberalization seems to have strengthened a decidedly nonliberal tendency towards closure and exclusion (cf. Bayart 1996).
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The US Committee for Refugees in its 2000 report estimated that there were 157,000 displaced persons in northeast India. A large number of ‘tribal’ people entitled to protective discrimination under the Indian Constitution live in those states. The rights of ‘non‐tribals’ to land ownership and exchange, business and trade licenses and access to elected office are restricted. A number of these tribal enclaves now are full‐fledged states. One of the unintended effects of this regime of protective discrimination is that the notion of exclusive homelands for ethnically defined groups has become normalized in the region. In a context of massive social transformation that attracts significant numbers of people to the region, this has generated an extremely divisive politics of insiders and outsiders that have led to these displacements.
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Mary Kaldor's New and Old Wars has fundamentally changed the way both scholars and policy-makers understand contemporary war and conflict. In the context of globalization, this path-breaking book has shown that what we think of as war - that is to say, war between states in which the aim is to inflict maximum violence - is becoming an anachronism. In its place is a new type of organized violence or 'new wars', which could be described as a mixture of war, organized crime and massive violations of human rights. The actors are both global and local, public and private. The wars are fought for particularistic political goals using tactics of terror and destabilization that are theoretically outlawed by the rules of modern warfare. Kaldor's analysis offers a basis for a cosmopolitan political response to these wars, in which the monopoly of legitimate organized violence is reconstructed on a transnational basis and international peacekeeping is reconceptualized as cosmopolitan law enforcement. This approach also has implications for the reconstruction of civil society, political institutions, and economic and social relations. This third edition has been fully revised and updated. Kaldor has added an afterword answering the critics of the New Wars argument and, in a new chapter, Kaldor shows how old war thinking in Afghanistan and Iraq greatly exacerbated what turned out to be, in many ways, archetypal new wars - characterised by identity politics, a criminalised war economy and civilians as the main victims. Like its predecessors, the third edition of New and Old Wars will be essential reading for students of international relations, politics and conflict studies as well as to all those interested in the changing nature and prospect of warfare.
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