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

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Making of a Frontier Identity

Revisiting Prantobashir Jhuli: Goalparar Lokjeeban O Gaan

A frontier is a “contested” geopolitical and cultural space. The emergence of the frontier has often been attributed to the complex historical, political, cartographic and cultural rearrangements that took place in a region at different points in time. The paper attempts to examine the making of the erstwhile Goalpara as a frontier and its “transition” to a “contested space” spreading between Assam and West Bengal. Based on an anthology, it tries to locate this frontier, considering its close proximity with both the states and the resultant identity imbroglio, in the context of the Koch-Rajbanshi community living in the region.

The authors express gratitude to Monirul Hussain of Gauhati University, Guwahati for his guidance and comments on the paper.

Prantobashi refers to the people living in the frontier or the crossroads of regional, national or international borders. They live away from the “mainland” often unheard, excluded, marginalised and marked by distinct identity and sociocultural practices. This paper is based on an antho­logy titled Prantobashir Jhuli: Goalparar Lokjeeban O Gaan (A Collection from the Frontier: The Folklife and Songs of Goalpara1) dating back to the dawn of India’s independence. In the present sociocultural context, the anthology is immensely significant for certain reasons. First, it was penned down by Nihar Bala Barua, princess of the Gauripur zamindari (landlord) estate2 of the erstwhile Goalpara in Assam, at a transitional period when issues of identity, border, nation, and nationality surfaced. Second, the region in question connects vis-à-vis separates two dominant bordering nationalities and inherits the imprints of both Assamese and Bengali identity—an imbroglio which Misra (2005: 215) has described as “proto-Bengal” and “proto-Assam.” Third, it resurfaces debate on the linguistic identity of the Koch-Rajbanshi community3 in contravention to its “dialect” status of the Assamese and Bengali languages. In addition, the anthology also attempts to document the folklife and sociocultural practices of the Koch-Rajbanshi community living in the erstwhile Goalpara. In view of the above arguments, this paper seeks to understand the following interrelated objectives. It examines the making of the erstwhile Goalpara as a frontier in colonial North East India and its “transition” to a “contested space” spreading between the postcolonial Assam and West Bengal. In the process of discussion, the paper also tries to locate the erstwhile Goalpara considering its close proximity with both Assamese and Bengali nationality and the resultant identity imbroglio in the region. Further, the paper explores the emergence of Koch-Rajbanshi ethnicity in the context of the anthology and discusses the issues involved.

Making of a Frontier Identity: ‘Transition’ in a Shared Homeland

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Updated On : 18th Jan, 2024
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