Book review: Uddipana Goswami, Conflict and Reconciliation: Politics of Ethnicity in Assam

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorKasturi Bharadwaj
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 435
Uddipana Goswami, Conflict and Reconciliation: Politics of Ethnicity in
Assam. India: Routledge, 2014, 223 pp., `695, ISBN 978-0-415-71113-5.
DOI: 10.1177/00195561241236098
Ethnicity is an ambiguous term; scholars have proposed a variety of approaches
to ethnicity considering its interdisciplinary nature. Being a part of an ethnic
group produces a different type of identification based on the group’s commonalities
called ethnicity. Ethnicity is a form of ‘collective identity based on shared culture,
beliefs and practices such as language, history, descent and religion’ (Puri, 2004,
p. 174). Ethnicity embodies both positive and negative aspects. Positively, ethnic
groups can create a nation when an ethnic group of fixed territory shares the same
history, collective memory and agrees to share the same political goal, that is,
Quebec in Canada and Catalonia in Spain. On the other hand, ethnicity is also
characterised by cultural prejudice and social discrimination which leads to ethnic
clashes and conflicts. South-East Asia at large has been experiencing the negative
ramifications of ethnicity.
Ethnic diversity and the complexities of ethnic identities have been fuelled to
the various ethnic conicts and ethnic politics of Northeast India as well. This
book is about transition in the region and its conict-prone areas and also about its
multifarious conicts. Goswami, with a thorough understanding of intergroup and
intragroup relations and deep ethnographic knowledge of the region, successfully
provides a historical background as well as cultural nitty-gritty of the conicting
ideologies. The book traces the genesis and evolution of ethnic politics and
explores how it gave birth to nativist and militant movements. This book is an
extensive exploration of the correlation between deep culture, structure and ethno-
nationalist conict that have been raging in Assam since 1970s. It deals with the
causes, current trends and societal consequences of ethnic conicts in Assam. It
also addresses the Bodoland issue in details where all conict-resolution methods
adopted by the state have failed to mitigate the raging violence. In the process, the
author tries to nd out alternative methods of conict resolution and peace-build-
ing for the region.
Goswami introduces the topic of the politics of ethnicity in Assam in the book
with a brief introduction to the state of Assam and a historical overview of how
events of ethnic conicts within communities unfolded. These conicts have ranged
from mass civil-disobedience movements engendered by long standing grievances
against the Indian State to armed militancy favouring secession from the state to
ethnic and communal riots as well as genocides aimed at ethnic cleansing (p. 1).
The book is divided into two parts. The rst part basically discusses theoretical
aspect of ethnic conict and the nature of conicts in Assam. It takes into account
the formation of Asamiya (interethnic) identity and how it leads to fragmentation
and division of the society at large. The second part is more of empirical evidence
of ethnic conicts and ethnic politics. It discusses the role of state, power sharing,
conict-resolution measures and its implications and what the future course of
action should be.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide a detailed discussion on ethnographic sketches and
interethnic histories of conicting communities in Assam. These chapters also

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