Ethnic Conflict and Peacebuilding in Northeast India

My dissertation research is a critical ethnographic investigation of the struggles over cultural representations and their relationship to varied expressions of ethnic violence in North-east India (South Asia). The Northeastern borderlands of India have been culturally and historiographically marginalized in relation to ‘mainland India’. A site of protracted ethnic conflict, the region is characterized by the co-existence of democratic institutions and repressive, extraconstitutional laws that suspend civic liberties. Taking Garo Hills region of North-east India as the site of inquiry, my dissertation has a two aims: first, it interrogates the culture of normalized everyday violence in the Garo Hills and examines how it reconfigures identities and subjectivities of local youth; second, it explores sites of resistance and innovative, community-based approaches to address everyday violence and to promote ‘everyday peace’ building among local youth.

My dissertation project grew out of five years of ethnographic engagement and a much longer personal relationship with Garo Hills, where I was born and where I lived for the first eighteen years of my life. A Dissertation Travel Grant from the University of Illinois and a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian studies supported my yearlong dissertation fieldwork (2009-10). As part of my dissertation research, I explored possibilities of grassroots peacebuilding efforts by creating contexts of inclusive civic participation. In the course of the project, discursive shifts occurred as the participating youth adopted a more inclusive language of ‘citizenship’, exemplifying that mutuality could be fostered across ethnic lines even in conditions of protracted conflict. In the future, I will continue to innovate, evaluate, and disseminate such participatory, community-based approaches of engaging and empowering marginalized communities. The site of my project is nominally South Asia and particularly India. Transactionally however, it is multiethnic and global as it engages the complex relation between historical experiences of marginality and contemporary identity struggles.