Malini Sur (Western Sydney University), “Rice Wars and the Making of the Northeast India-East Pakistan Border” (South Asian Studies Council)

Event time: 
Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Luce Hall 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06510-1714
Event description: 
Set against a backdrop of agricultural land shapeshifting into postcolonial nations, my talk situates rice as a powerful grain that connected British colonial Assam and Bengal, and later Northeast India and East Pakistan (1930–1970). I show how state repression and competing claims to rice harvests contended with shifting political and ecological terrains. At important historical junctures, rice came to link cultivation and territorialization, state violence and food, and dispossession and espionage. While ephemeral landscapes and agrarian extraction escalated the demands for land and food, late colonial and early postcolonial territorial consolidations alternatingly prevented and facilitated rushed journeys—which cultivators recall as hurmuri jatras (unplanned, hurried journeys)—across the political margins. These events led peasants to acquire land and raid each other’s rice harvests to survive and to gain control over the new borders. I argue that the changing predicament of rice cultivators as land reclaimers, food producers, and political actors disrupts the neat historical ordering that splinters peasants along ethnic (Assamese/Bengali/Garo), religious (Muslim/Christian/Hindu), and national lines (Indian/East Pakistani).
Malini Sur is a faculty at Western Sydney University and divides her time between the Institute for Culture and Society and a new B.A program in anthropology.