ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Colonial Construction of a Frontier

Debating the Inner Line Regulation in Sibsagar–Naga Hills

An examination of the emergence, shifts and perceptions surrounding the Inner Line Regulation in the North East Frontier reveals that the Inner Line seems to be more of a civilisational frontier than a territorial one. Regulation of the Inner Line has played an important role in postcolonial political construction of the highland–lowland duality and in the creation of a contested social space in the Sibsagar–Naga Hills.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments and suggestions; the Felix Scholarship for supporting ethnographic and archival field research in Nagaland; and the Christopher Von Furer-Haimendorf Fieldwork Grant, the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Emslie Horniman Grant, and the University of London’s Central Research Fund for supporting 14 months of fieldwork among the Yimchunger Nagas. The author is also grateful to Johan Pottier, Willa Zhen, and Brian Morris for their valuable advice, guidance, and mentorship during the writing of this paper.

This paper critically engages with the text (colonial records and correspondences) and the social context that led to the adoption of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, commonly known today as Inner Line Regulation, and further draws attention to its subsequent implementation in the Naga Hills as what is popularly known as the Sibsagar Inner Line, which demarcated the administered and unadministered territories of British India in Sibsagar district (Seebsaugor, as per colonial records), bordering the Naga Hills of the then colonial Assam. The central argument of my paper revolves around the idea that the Inner Line was a political rather than protective tool introduced by the colonial government in the North East India. Contemporary explanations of the Inner Line in social science, historical, and official literature on the North East have a singular understanding of this strategic and complex legislation that altered once and for all the relation of administration over hill tracts with control over population mobility.

The Inner Line, as I will argue, was not just an administrative boundary between administered British subjects and those that were unadministered under the common codes of British India jurisprudence; it was also instrumental in the inclusion of territories that were strategic for revenue generation within the general administration of British India. It also acted as an instrument of panoptic control over population mobility between the Assam plains and the Naga Hills. Further, the Inner Line, as I will show, was never static and permanent in the Sibsagar frontier as it constantly oscillated to include and exclude territories that were central to tea plantations and the creation of forest reserves and included tracts that had been identified in surveys as potential sites of rich mineral deposits, primarily coal.

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Updated On : 19th Feb, 2018
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