Shikha Nehra

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Stanford U.

Grant number

Gr. 10438

Approve Date

October 11, 2022

Project Title

Nehra, Shikha (Stanford U.) "The (im)possibility of Being an Indian: Muslim Political Belonging in Assam"

This project seeks to investigate the relationship between language, ethnonationalism, and belonging across intersecting institutional and interactional scales. I situate this investigation in Assam, a frontier state in the north-eastern region of India, which has become central to the current Hindu majoritarian government’s project of reconfiguring the Indian nation from a secular to ethnic democracy. The violent sub-plot of this project is the process of denaturalizing Muslim citizens in Assam by categorizing them as ‘illegal migrants’ from Bangladesh. However, language’more than religion’is the key axis of difference in Assam. While Bangla Muslims are subject to state violence by being labeled as ‘encroachers,’ ‘infiltrators,’ and ‘illegal migrants,’ Assamese Muslim communities are perceived as indigenous. My project interrogates this confluence of religious and linguistic difference in the ongoing reconstruction of the Indian nation. Through 18-months of ethnographic and archival research, I will examine how language’as an object of state policy, basis of ethno-religious identity, and mode of communication’mediates the political field by determining who belongs and who is an outsider.