Anxiety, Assertion and the Politics of Naming: The Making of ‘Assameli- Gorkha
Definition of the ‘self’ in the modern times is not just an individual’s quest for self-identification, but also a political statement of one’s status in the society. A sense of common origin, common beliefs and values, a common sense of survival; in other words a common cause has been a defining feature of mankind uniting themselves under various identities. On the basis of groups definitions of belonging mankind can develop complex formal systems of individual and group stratification. Hence, a great deal of one’s ‘self-definition’ or ‘self-identification’ depends on the nature of the polity and society where one belongs to.
The present paper attempts to analyse the (re)construction of a hybrid identity and its underlying process-both pedagogical and performative. Set in the province of Assam in the Northeast India, a region which has been understood and seen as a troubled one due to ethnic and secessionist conflicts since independence, this study explores a lesser known but persistent movement for ethnic redefinition amongst the ‘Nepali speaking Gorkha’ population of Assam. After facing years of displacement and discrimination, the community to a great extent has been accepted as an indispensable part of the greater ‘Assamese Society’ resulting into the birth of ‘Assameli-Gorkha’.
The importance of the study lies in the fact that when it comes to Northeast India, an extension of the eastern Himalaya-both geographically and culturally, which has an overwhelming ethnic diversity, despite the idea of reified and bounded ethnic categories, things tend to be more fluid, overlapping and messy on the ground. The region has been a battleground for ‘homeland’ politics where ‘origin’ of a community decides its fate- as indigenous or immigrant. The focus here is not on the most expressive and overt forms of ethnicity, but rather on the more subtle aspects of collective attachments and how such attachments change and modify over time.
The paper is informed by two major research questions:
- What are the ways and means in which a hybrid identity is constructed spatially and symbolically and how is it disseminated to the people at large?
- What are the factors that influence, support and at times forces a community to forge new terms of self-description.
- How does a migrant- settler community (re)negotiate and (re)define its relationship with the land of its origin.
Methodology: The paper is based on ethnographic study of the community. A major part of the study will be based on in-depth elite interviews of leaders and ethnic activist of the ‘Axomiya- Nepali’ community. Primary sources of data include interviews with the members of political parties, ethnic organizations, youth bodies etc. Also, views of all those who are competent to throw light in this regard, such as intellectuals like academicians, artists, journalists and so on would be made use of in this study.