“Cross-Border Nationalism” and Emerging Transnational Identity: The Rajbanshis of Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh Borderland
The paper attempts to address two inter-related issues in the context of the Rajbanshi community living in the Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh borderland. It is based on the argument that, “cross-border nationalism” that cuts across the political borders has been a post-colonial phenomenon in the Indian sub-continent. However, its root can be traced back to the political history of the region and the way the British colonial government carried out the ‘cartographic exercise’ in a fragile landscape characterised by shared history, heritage and multiplicity of identities. The construction of political borders that was primarily aimed at to consolidate the colonial interests restricted the centuries old “free mobility” among different caste, ethnic, and religious groups. This process of remapping of borders has caused unprecedented social, political, economic, and cultural ramifications on the peoples’ lives and identity. However, over the years, a transition has been witnessed in the borderland among different ethnic groups due to the growing sense of ethnicity and increasing people-to-people interactions.
Considering the above arguments and following historical method, the paper tries to understand – (a) the emergence of “cross-border nationalism” among the Rajbanshis living in the Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh borderland. The Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh borderland – considered as the ‘traditional homeland’ of the Rajbanshis had witnessed multiple transitions at different historical phases for various internal and external factors. Largely, the borderland includes the northern part of West Bengal i.e. North Bengal, Western part of Assam; the northern part of Bangladesh i.e. the erstwhile colonial Rangpur; foot hills of Bhutan and the eastern part of Terai region of Nepal. While the borderland has been a contiguous one; but, it is equally a complex society to comprehend. In this context, the paper also tries to trace – (b) the trajectory of the Rajbanshi identity and how it has been changing from its regional dynamics to pan-Rajbanshi identity transcending the present political borders and to address the issues involved. Further, an attempt will be made to understand the security dynamics involved the borderland and the question transnational identity.
Keywords: “Cross-border nationalism”, transnational identity, ethnicity, borderland, Rajbanshi