ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Colonisation of Assam

North-eastern India as a Frontier

Becoming Assamese: Colonialism and New Subjectivities in Northeast India by Madhumita Sengupta, Routledge India, 2016; pp 290, 1,095.


The book under review begins with the cursory invocation of some of the reigning deities of South Asian history (Benedict Anderson and Partha Chatterjee on nationalism, Sudipto Kaviraj’s “fuzzy” identities, Homi Bhaba’s “hybridity,” Jürgen Habermas on the public sphere and Fredrik Barth on ethnicity). However, invocations remain mere invocations and are never worked through in any detail in the book’s arguments. The author, Madhumita Sengupta’s stated aim is to recover aspects of 19th century Assam and its colonisation under the British that have remained unaddressed in extant historiography.

The book begins with a discussion of changes in the political economy—sedenterisation, colonisation of “wastelands,” the introduction of land settlements and their impact on the ryot—of the province of Assam and its surrounding areas during the 19th century. The second chapter titled “Languages of Identity” looks at the debates between officials of the colonial state, Baptist missionaries, and sections of the Assamese intelligentsia over the Assamese language and its subsequent standardisation. The educational policies of the colonial state and its accompanying rhetoric of progress is the subject of study of the third chapter titled the “Burden of Progress.”

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Updated On : 8th Nov, 2017


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