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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Peasants, Spies and Stolen Harvests: The making of the Northeast India East Pakistan border, 1930-1970’ , 15th December, 2014


Dr. Malini Sur,
National University of Singapore,


In this talk, the speaker engages with overlapping and contested claims over land and rice along South Asia’s northeastern borderlands. She shows how the conversion of agricultural land into provincial and national territories, and religious and political mobilizations that defined affiliations and citizenship, altered prior conceptions of locality and belonging. The entangled histories of two peasant and border communities who may be broadly described as Muslim cultivators of Bengali origin and the mostly Christian Garos tells the story of rice wars along the edges of colonial Assam and eastern Bengal. These provincial margins were fought over, redrawn and mapped to form the post-colonial borders of Northeast India and East Pakistan (1930-1970). As intersecting projects surrounding land came to mark borders, evicted and displaced peasants not only lost but also acquired each other’s land and rice harvests. Combining a close reading of late colonial and early post-colonial archives with ethnographic fieldwork, the speaker shows how the politically charged semantics of rice complicates the romantic pastoral of land loss, disrupts the “citizen-refugee” analytic that South Asia’s partition historiography has privileged and connects disparate histories of migration and settlement.


Dr. Malini Sur is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Her research interests connect three broad areas—borders, mobility, and citizenship—with a focus on South Asia. She has lectured at the University of Amsterdam, held a writing fellowship at the University of Toronto and worked for Social Science Research Council (New York). Dr. Sur has published in anthropology and interdisciplinary journals including HAU, Mobilities, Indian Journal of Gender Studies and The Economic and Political Weekly.

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