Development Studies: Concept Note

Nation building is the result of people living in multiple ways choosing to identify themselves with an imagined community, the Nation. The social contract so forged between the members of this entity comes with secession of some rights, and accordance of some others. In this dynamic process of co- option of multiple ethnicities by the Nation-State, do the seeds of conflict lie.The Nation State, despite being an entity formed as a manifestation of a collective imaginary, is seldom devoid of power hierarchies. Different groups wield power at different points in history, and accordingly, the relative status of different groups in the political economy gets decided. Such exercises of power can take many forms. Knowledge creation about different communities can be a source of dominance. The prevalent powerful elite are always in a position to not only set the rules for the rest to follow, but also define the terms in which they view their own lives. Such conceptual colonization is true of the internal elite as much as the historical colonizers. An ethnic conflict may therefore have its roots in such contesting claims over knowledge creation.

Such ‘soft domination’ is not a matter of rumination for academicians only. It in fact extends into the very ground reality of our existence. This is evident in the policies formulated by the government of the day. In the Indian context, the discriminatory ‘attitude’ of the centre in governing or administering the north-eastern states of the country till the recent times, has been vividly seen in the formulation of policies and laws. This attitude becomes clear from a letter written by Sardar Patel to Pandit Nehru in 1950: “Our Northern or Northeastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal areas of Assam. From the point of view of communication, they are weak spots.The contact of these areas with us, is by no means close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India.” The complacency and negligence on the part of the federal government in developing this region in the post-independence era can be considered as one of the prime factors for the conflicts- not just between the states and the centre, but equally among the various ethnic communities within the region. The Nellie massacre of 1983 is an obvious example. It is in such cases that the ‘Nation’ is no longer an imagined community in whose ideals every party identifies with. There is in fact an ‘officialising’ of interests instead. This inadvertent exclusionary process is again a site of conflict.

There is concurrently a process of conscious inclusion and integration attempted by the State. Creating certain cultural markers that transcend specific ethnicities is part of such a process of integration. Meanwhile such integration can happen only with allowing room for certain cultural particulars to exist. The State often does this by emphasising on selective cultural particulars, indulging in what is termed ‘museumisation’. This tussle between commonalities and disjunctures in expressing one’s identity is another conflict we try to capture in this theme.

The conference attempts to grapple with these multiple sites of conflict, comprehend them in the light of their political philosophical underpinnings, exploring the need for ethnohistory in studying communities, different forms of knowledge, the policy decisions of the government that brings these conflicts to light.


  1. Creation of different identities – Nationalism v/s Ethnicity.
  2. Policy and Politics: State’s role in initiating and curbing Ethnic conflicts.
  3. Ethnic Conflicts in South Asia; Past, present and future.

About Negotiating Conflict

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras is organising its second academic conference in the month of September, 2012 under the overarching theme of ‘Negotiating Conflict’. The two day conference will have a session each on Economics, English Studies and Development Studies offering an array of lectures, panel discussions by the leading thinkers and paper presentations by students. For queries, please mail at:
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