For much of the past three months, the northeastern Indian state of Manipur—nestled right up against the border with Myanmar—has been the site of a conflict between two groups: the majority Meiteis and the minority Kukis. The fighting—with scenes of brutal violence, looting of police stations, and burnt places of worship—even sparked a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Empire or nation-state? This question has driven much argument in Chinese academic circles. These arguments take more than one form, however. The political view of China as a nation-state has focused very much on the question of sovereignty and international relations. But there is also a claim about Chinese culture and national identity: the question of what China is vis-à-vis what it means to be Chinese.
South Asia is bound by a strong cultural currency. It is not uncommon to find restaurants run by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the diaspora marketed as serving “Indian” cuisine, freely expressing shared roots and ways of life. It is also not uncommon to find citizens of the three nations to welcome each other into their homes and endear them with great hospitality. Given this healthy cultural exchange, what is unusual is their common perception of each other’s political orientation as antithetical to theirs. In Shadows at Noon: The South Asian Century, historian Joya Chatterji investigates whether the region’s nation building practices are really all that different from each other’s.
Beyond the Siliguri Corrido, the so-called chicken neck of Indian territory that runs between Bangladhesh and Nepal, lies an India very different from that of common preconceptions. This is an area surrounded by Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, hemmed in by the Himalaya. As Samrat Choudhury writes in the introduction to his new book, Northeast India: A Political History, “the Northeast is a protuberance that hangs on to the rest of the country by a slender thread, barely 21 kilometres wide at its narrowest point.” What follows is an attempt to shape a political history of a region that has seen mass political turmoil while ongoing debates rage around ideas of ethnic, political and cultural identity.
Borders have always been seen as physical lines of separation, which mark the “other” and group geographical spaces into territories and nation-States. However, can borders and borderlands also simultaneously exist as gateways for trade and commerce while being rigid institutions that disallow the movement of people from one part to another? Are some borders seen while others are only felt?
In mid-April, Myanmar’s military bombed a village in the country’s northwest, killing over a hundred people in what’s been considered the deadliest attack in the now two-year civil war in the country: The result of the Myanmar military’s coup in February 2021.
The Myanmar coup on February 1, 2021 shocked the world, and ended an opening that had fostered hopes for democratization and economic development. The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, reversed a decade’s worth of changes, and sparked a civil conflict that has continued for two years since the coup.