“Learning to love the city in Northeast India” – IIAS Newsletter

The Newsletter 77 Summer 2017

iias_nl77_summer_2017_screenshotLearning to love the city in Northeast India

The rapid urbanization of India’s Northeast frontier1 is one of the most crucial transformations the area has witnessed, yet it remains relatively understudied. In just a few decades a large number of the inhabitants have become urban dwellers in one of the frontier cities, or migrants in cities in the rest of India and abroad. Urban areas in the frontier have diverse histories and some common experiences. Colonisation, resource extraction, stations for supply, and militarisation are some of the shared features. These processes have persisted in postcolonial India along with the growth in administrative quarters and buildings (and cars) for the bureaucrats of newly created political units (new federal states and autonomous districts), new military installations and housing, and population growth from migration for those seeking work, refuge, and education. Despite this history, urban environments are rarely part of imaginations of the frontier, especially in the production and circulation of images and the stereotypes of plantations, jungle insurgency, spectacular topography, and colourfully dressed ethnic minority communities. In this Focus section we explore the urban environments in the Northeast frontier – India’s ‘unruly borderland’2 – as crucial sites in their own right, and as sites in which to experiment with different ways of researching the region. […]

Two dynamics can be considered, in addition to just the size of a settlement: urban population growth and municipal expansion. The 2011 census recorded extensive growth in urban populations. The percentage of the overall population living in urban areas in each of the Northeast states in 2011 was as follows (with the increase since 2001 in brackets): Mizoram 52% (+3%), Manipur 31% (+6%), Nagaland 29% (+12%), Tripura 26% (+9%), Sikkim 25% (+14%), Arunachal Pradesh 23% (+2%), Meghalaya 20% (+1%) and Assam 14% (+2%), compared to a national average of 31% (3%). […]

Historically, city-level governance, compared to state and district level, has always been weak in India; an issue further complicated in the Northeast by overlapping layers of authority (including traditional decision making bodies), and until recently there has been little incentive to expand the territory under municipal authority.

This, however, is changing. There are now new incentives to enlarge and/or create municipal areas in the frontier. The Ministry of Urban Development has a number of flagship schemes.  […]

In the frontier, neighbourhoods, public buildings, commercial areas, houses, slums, parks, ceasefire camps, barracks and memorials all tell stories of past and present relationships of power and violence. […]

The search for exceptional spaces in urban areas also needs to account for normalcy, and indeed the unstable ground upon which ‘normal’ and ‘exceptional’ can be understood in the Northeast. Parks, malls, theatres, cemeteries, bus stations, are important sites where people live out their lives, sometimes even – in the case of the gardens on U-Chiyok in Kakching – in full view of acres of military infrastructure. […]

Urban areas in the Northeast are covered in images and text that reflect a lived cosmopolitanism – and it’s limits – that both accompanies and challenges dominant ways of understanding the region and its component parts. […]

In urban areas attempts to articulate and enforce acceptable sensory behaviour characterises relationships between ethnic communities, often drawing a line between indigenous and migrant, or dominant and marginal, with the latter the subject of grievances for the physical, sonic, visual, and olfactory affect on local space; such as the smell from the food different communities cook and eat, or the noise from particular religious worship and festivals. Senses also affect relationships among communities along class lines; for instance, poorer areas are perceived as ‘smelly’ by some urban residents because of the rubbish, the industry (metal works, incineration, animal slaughter), and noise owing to overcrowded dwellings and raucous behaviour often linked to rural sensibilities and alcohol consumption, while wealthier areas are imagined as quiet, odour free, clean, and ‘decent’. […]

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Source: The Newsletter 77 Summer 2017 | International Institute for Asian Studies
Address: http://iias.asia/the-newsletter/newsletter-77-summer-2017
Date Visited: Fri Jun 16 2017 18:57:54 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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