Panel 1, Race, Empire, Citizenship

Sana Aiyar
Associate Professor of History, MIT

“Out of India: East Africa and its South Asian Diasporas”

Where does the Indian diaspora belong? This is a question of historical and historiographical concern. Mapping on to one another, nationalist histories, and their historiographical doppelgangers, drew boundaries around the question of belonging, as Indian citizenship was defined territorially and singularly in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru urged over a million Indians living overseas at the time to consider their adopted hostlands their “home”, making it clear that the diaspora belonged elsewhere and not in India. Yet he reminded Indians that they were “guests of the Africans”, a trope picked up by nationalists in East Africa to emphasize the extent to which Indians were outsiders and did not belong there. Diasporic mobility similarly created an analytical dilemma for historiographical approaches to the study of the Indian diaspora as the area-studies framework focused the gaze of historians within the territorial boundaries of South Asia and East Africa. South Asian diasporas rarely featured in these works. Over the last five years, however, important new works that put Indians in East Africa at the center of their studies on empire, nationalism, race, and community have been published in rapid succession. Together, they point to a significant new historiographical shift that brings together South Asian, African, and diaspora studies that is equally attentive to local and transnational dynamics. They chart new geographies, scales, and discourses of belonging, all of which constitute diasporic consciousness. My paper surveys the interventions and new perspectives offered in these works. Moving beyond the trope of the Indian in East Africa as an exploitative trader, this essay remaps the diaspora as having multiple sites of belonging that were invoked in languages of claim making in political discourse.

Sara Shneiderman

Associate Professor of Anthropology and School of Public Policy and Global Affairs/Co-Director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research (CISAR), University of British Columbia

“The irony of open borders: mobility, citizenship and ethnicity in contemporary Himalayan South Asia”

In this era of travel bans and renewed populist nationalism, arguments for open borders and global citizenship appear ever more compelling. Yet the actual effects of open borders on framework for inclusive citizenship and sovereignty from below may not always be as imagined. Drawing upon my ongoing ethnographic research in two different contexts—the movement for an independent state of Gorkhaland in the Darjeeling district of India’s state of West Bengal, and the Madheshi regionalist movement for full citizenship in Nepal—I argue that the political-historical reality of the postcolonial open border between Nepal and India has yielded unexpected results. In both contexts, members of marginalized communities are unable to gain full recognition from the state in which they are born, due to ethno-racialized frameworks for regulating citizenship, which in turn curtail formal political agency. I ask: in such contexts, how how do the experiences of both those who negotiate multiple citizenships (simultaneously or sequentially) and those who possess no citizenship (de facto stateless people), complicate state-promoted narratives of singular citizenship and nationalist belonging, yielding their own forms of political action? How have global discourses of indigeneity and marginality worked to counter neocolonial forms of cultural imperialism, challenging nationalist claims to territory through locally-emergent social movements? Finally, I consider what it means to examine these questions within non-diasporic contexts of regular regional mobility across land borders, where many of the received analytical frameworks for understanding the histories, politics, and socialities of settler colonialism and trans-oceanic migration may not apply.

Anneeth Kaur Hundle

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Merced

“Unsettling Citizenship: Race, Security and Afro-Asian Politics in Contemporary Uganda”

This position paper will explore my original research and book manuscript on the politics of multi-racial citizenship, Afro-Asian relations, community-building, and South Asian political practice and political subjectivity in the context of both decolonizing and neoliberal political processes in contemporary Uganda. In the paper, I will address the significance of working through the Ugandan case study in the broader East African, African, and Indian Ocean contexts. Indeed, in doing so, I ethnographically “trace” the conceptual and ideological underpinnings of, and everyday uses of, liberal citizenship and its failure in the Ugandan postcolony. Exploring and reassessing the 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 as a “critical event” (Das 1997)—as well as an unresolved historical event for both indigenous and migrant/settler-subject communities—I argue for the importance of an analytics of citizenship, race and security in postcolonial Uganda (and indeed, in African postcolonies with plural, multi-racial communities that cannot be understood in the context of formal inclusion for minority communities in liberal multicultural democracies like South Africa). Utilizing ethnographic fieldwork and life history narratives from Kampala, Uganda and other small towns in the country, I examine the development of “flexible securitization” practices among new and old South Asian communities in the context of ongoing nation-building processes, arguing for the importance of studying South Asian political practice in East Africa in relation to ongoing practices of decolonization and democratization in the region. Finally, I hope to use this case study to contribute to the discussion of South Asian migration in broader, global perspective.