Accepted paper:

Militancy, Policing and the 'State Effect' in Northeast India


Nel Vandekerckhove (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on everyday policing in conflict-ridden Northeast India and how it gives form to state formation processes in contexts of prolonged political instability.

Paper long abstract:

Militant secessionism in Northeast India has occupied the minds of both anthropologists and conflict experts for several years now. Anthropologists, such as James C. Scott, argue that the pervasiveness of secessionism in this border region is best to be understood as part of a wider antagonistic political project of resistance, aimed at keeping the modern state at arm's length, both in ideological and practical terms. For conflict specialists, Northeast India owes this havoc primarily to a deep-seated institutional malaise, after years of political and economic disinvestment by the Delhi-based government. This paper juxtaposes these supposedly incongruent views on the link between state performance in borderlands and the outburst of secessionist violence. Based on empirical study of everyday police work in Karbi Anglong, one of the remote hill districts in Northeast India, this paper will demonstrate how the two sets of literature are in fact part of the same scholarly debate on state formation. Secondly, this paper warns for the danger of stretching too far the notions of 'non-state spaces' and 'state weakness' vis-à-vis peripheral or conflict-prone zones. State officials who operate in these contested spaces are often incredibly creative in adapting to the volatile political circumstances they encounter. In Karbi Anglong, for instance, a more deliberative approach to law-enforcement, allowed police officials not just to survive, but even to prepare the ground for the Indian state to strengthen its position in this border region.

panel SE32
Anthropology of peace and war in contemporary Asia and Africa: reflections on the meaning of 'hybridity' and 'the everyday' in conflict studies