Standing at the intersection of social science research and poetic musings on the flux and flurry of life, this book vividly captures the multifarious problems that India's North East encounters as it comes into contact with the forces of modernization and change. Organised in two parts, the first part focuses on the economic crisis that plagues the Northeastern states, the spread of Christianity, and Khasi men's movement against matriliny. The second part contains fifty-two 'stories' in verse on a variety of subjects ranging from the gender question to environmental degradation, and problems faced by the Northeast diaspora in India's capital city. While the book argues for a more nuanced reading of the issues examined, it also questions the way in which the North East and its people are represented, the model of development adopted, and ability of the much-hyped 'Look East Policy' to benefit the heavily militarized and infrastructure starved region.
The book is by no means anti- development but calls for a change in approach to strike a balance between the centre and the periphery, the nation and the region, and growth and conservation. What is also distinct about this book is the novelty in its approach. By combining different theoretical perspectives and genres of writing, it not only succeeds in bringing together different sets of issues within a single cover, but also lucidly communicates the angst and trauma, dreams and aspirations of a people/s long viewed as the cultural and peripheral 'other'.
Tiplut Nongbri hails from the Northeastern state of Meghalaya. She graduated from St. Mary's College, Shillong and obtained her masters and doctoral degrees in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India. She teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (INDIA), with a brief stint in between at the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her publications include: Development, Ethnicity and Gender: Select Essays on Tribes in India ( 2003 ), Matriliny, Gender and Entrepreneurship: The Khasis of Meghalaya (2008), besides a co-edited book and several articles and research reports.
The three essays that comprised the first part of this collection have been delivered as Special Lectures at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla where I spent a month in September 2012. The essays have been written at different points of time as part of my ongoing research on India's North East. In chronological terms, the first essay 'Development in North East India: Issues and Challenges' is the most recent. It emerged from a small project commissioned by the Changmai-based Asia Indigenous People's Pact on behalf of the International Fund for Agricultural Development in the fall of 2011. I am grateful to AIPP and IFAD for the financial assistance provided.
The second paper, 'Deconstructing Masculinity: Matriliny, Fatherhood and Social Change' is a revised and enlarged version of an earlier paper published in Eastern Quarterly, 5 (II &III), July- December 2008.
Part of the third essay, 'Christianity, Colonialism and Tribes: An Alternative View of Conversion' came from my ongoing project on Khasi religion.
I am grateful to all the scholars and fellows at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study where the-lectures took place for their comments and feedback, and to Professor Peter Ronald deSouza, Director, IIAS for his kind invitation, which has enabled me to visit the Institute on a visiting professorship and avail of its rich and stimulating intellectual resources.
The second part of this volume contains 52 pieces of 'stories' in verse based on my personal and professional encounters and experiences written over time. Each piece marks a distinct point in my life as I journeyed from my homeland in India's North East to Delhi where I live and work. Though written independently of the essays, many of the pieces are extensions of the concerns that emanate from my research. However, the work makes no claim to poetic sophistication or rigour typical of literary genre. I have adopted the verse form primarily as a medium to express my concerns and to capture the changing face of the North East as it comes into contact with the forces of modernization and change. Written from a sociological perspective, special attention has been paid to the incursion of materialist and acquisitive values in the once egalitarian tribal societies; the social and physical effect of resource-intensive development; the trauma of insurgencies and counter-insurgency measures faced by the ordinary citizens; and the struggles of the North East diaspora in Delhi, as they try to carve out a niche for themselves, away from their troubled and development-starved homeland, in the city's multi-cultural landscape. As a backdrop to the latter, some of the pieces turn their gaze on the common sights and sounds of Delhi as seen through the eyes of a North Easterner.
Some of the pieces included may appear to be out of sync with the rest of the collection in the volume. But I decided to put them in because excluding them would make the story incomplete. Though rather personal in nature, these pieces expose both the frailty of human existence and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversities. Written at a time when the world appeared bleak and dark, the exercise provided me with a weapon to battle a serious illness and disruptions caused to my social and professional life. Together with the pieces on the North East diaspora in Delhi, they tell the story of struggles, resilience and hope of a people long viewed as the 'peripheral' and 'cultural other' slowly paving their way to create space for themselves in the flux and flurry of the nation's capital.
I am grateful to all the persons who in different ways inspired and encouraged me in this endeavor. In particular, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Dr. T.R.S. Sharma, Mr. Keki N. Daruwala and Madhu Sahni, a friend and colleague at JNU, for their valuable. comments on the manuscript contained 'in Part; II of the volume To Dr. Prabhat Mittal, a special thank you for helping me with the preparation of the kinship chart and to Pastor Lyndan Syiem for his help in editing the essay on Christianity. I would also like to thank Dr. Debarshi Sen for the care and patience with which he handled the back-and-forth travel of the manuscript between Shimla and JNU, and to the anonymous editor at the Institute for straightening up my commas and full stops. My sincere thanks also go to Mr Ajay Gupta of 3 A Graphics for the kindness with which he met my requests for last minute changes in the manuscript.
To my family, Vijay, Natasha and Vivek, I thank you all for your readiness, as always, to act as my sounding board when doubts clouded my mind and for supportively putting up with the neglect on the domestic front.
Last and most importantly, I express my deep gratitude to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study for giving me the opportunity to put together the essays and verses in this volume and to Jawaharlal Nehru University, my parent institution, for providing me the intellectual space to experiment with a genre of writing that is strictly outside the boundary of my discipline.
Needless to say, none of the persons or institutions mentioned above is accountable for the views and/or limitations contained in this book, for which I alone am responsible.
I dedicate this collection to the young people from the North East studying and working in Delhi, in interaction with whom I was able to re-live and re-experience the angst and trauma that they and many of their families go through.
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