Article

“We are sons of this soil”: the endless battle over indigenous homelands in Assam, India

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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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... In mapping out the geographical distribution of SoS conflicts, Fearon and Laitin's (2011) research highlights a potent correlation between SoS conflict and Asia, possibly owing to the region's unique physical and social geography, where a large lowland plain area is typically overpopulated by members of the dominant ethnic group and surrounded by peripheral hill areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. There is consequently a burgeoning literature on SoS conflict in Asian countries such as India (Bhavnani & Lacina, 2015;Devotta, 2002;Forsberg, 2010;Mukherjee, 2014;Vandekerckhove, 2009;Weiner, 1978), Indonesia (Ananta, 2006;Côté, 2014a;Côté & Mitchell, 2015;Kivimaki, 2012), Sri Lanka (Kearney & Miller, 1987;Tambiah, 1986), Papua New Guinea (Koczberski & Curry, 2004), the Philippines (Tigno, 2006), and China (Côté, in press, 2015). ...
... (Fearon & Laitin, 2011, p. 200) SoS conflict thus combines an ethnic component and an indigenous component. Qualitative studies conducted in India and Indonesia suggest that the greater the number of groups claiming indigeneity to a particular piece of land, the more lethal the violence (Davidson, 2008;Vandekerckhove, 2009). ...
... Although this is not to imply that territorial disputes or contested claims over territory are irrelevant factors in understanding SoS conflicts elsewhere (cf. Côté, 2014b;Kolstø & Blakkisrud, 2013;Vandekerckhove, 2009) there is evidence to suggest that land conflicts are particularly salient in Africa (Boone, 2014;Peters, 2004). While the continued importance of smallscale agriculture and increased scarcity of land both serve to explain the link between land and SoS conflict, it is the insecure and unenforceable nature of many of the continent's property rights regimes that frequently contributes to outbreaks of SoS conflicts throughout Africa. ...
Article
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Article
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Article
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Chapter
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Book
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... 26 These may include arrangements set up by people themselves, arrangements supported directly or indirectly by the warring parties, or by outside aid agencies, by remnants of state organizations, or frequently by a mixture of these. Such unwieldy configurations are found in conflict contexts in Africa, 27 Latin America, 28 South Asia, 29 and Central Asia. 30 Such arrangements may include local institutions, (inter)national NGOs, representatives of the business community, and even armed groups. ...
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Article
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