ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Citizenship precarities in India’s northeastern borderland


Saikia Smitana - Azim Premji University, School of Development, Bengaluru, India


16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


 The state of Assam in India’s northeastern borderland underwent a massive bureaucratic exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens. Purportedly aimed to identify illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, the exercise resulted in over 1.9 million people pushed into a precarious situation that may lead to statelessness. While this process culminated in 2019, many others, declared as foreigners (or ‘doubtful voters’) since the 1990s, have been disenfranchised and incarcerated (sometimes wrongly) in ‘detention camps’. The paper seeks to examine the workings of citizenship regimes on the ‘rougher edge’ of Indian nation-state by studying the everyday experiences of borderlanders in navigating a complex juridico-legal landscape. In doing so, the paper focuses on how the fate of those with precarious political status in a border district of Assam depends on furnishing ‘official documents’ and identification proofs that create further uncertainty (but in some cases, can also have ‘life-giving properties’, to borrow from Nayanika Mathur). In conclusion, the paper argues that negotiations by political actors in borderlands as a process of making claims to political membership of a nation, complicate the binary of citizen/illegal immigrant otherwise replete in nationalist political discourse in India today.

Works cited

Mathur, N. Paper Tiger. Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India. Cambridge Studies 2015.