Rewriting-nation state: borderland literatures of India and the question of state sovereignty
This project studies the paradoxical juxtaposition of the modern nation-state's guarantee of life and security to its citizenry, along with the spectacular (encounter killings, torture chambers and cells) and banal (border control practices, population policies) forms through which it exercises the power over life and death in the sphere of everyday life in particular borderland areas. I argue that a study of exceptional locales like India's eastern borderlands elaborates the paradox of state sovereignty in two ways: first, it illustrates that so-called "margins," like colonies and borderlands, are necessary for the institution of modern state sovereignty, and second, it enables a critical scrutiny of the function of forms of violence as essential tools of modern governmentality. India's eastern borderlands are a crucial locale for such an inquiry because they lie at the crossroads of the three area-studies formations of South, Southeast and East Asia. The institutionalization of the official borders of the nation-states that rim this region--India, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan--are comparatively recent historical developments. Specters of pre-nation-statist spatial connections still survive in the region, and often come into conflict with modern state technologies such as citizenship laws and statutes regulating cross-border socioeconomic contacts among people. The central focus of my project is on post-1980 Anglophone and local language literary fictions by Amitav Ghosh, Siddhartha Deb, Parag Das and Raktim Xarma. These fictions demonstrate how the eastern borderlands are figured in popular Indian discourse as a "state of nature" that occupy a position of being both inside the rationalized territorial body of the nation-state and outside the regime of normalized law and order. Focusing on figures as diverse as bureaucrats, army officials, journalists, guerrillas and refugees (among others), they show how socio-historical changes over a longue durée, and the practices and policies employed by the state apparatus, coalesce to produce new modalities of subjectivity and politics in these zones of exception in the Indian nation-state.