In this talk I will discuss the main themes and arguments in my recently published book titled Placing the Frontier in British North East India: Law, Custom, and Knowledge, Oxford University Press 2023. The frontier hills of the British Empire in India examined in this book are in the present-day Indian borderland state of Meghalaya and Sylhet Division in Bangladesh. The book shows the various ways through which colonial law travelled into the frontiers of the British Empire in India particularly the northeastern non-British territories. These included contractual agreements, regulations, boundary making, jurisdictional disputes, and formulations of custom, authority, and knowledge. Focusing on the nineteenth century the book further demonstrates the relationship between law and space, and indigenous place making. Through law colonial governance formulated the hills as frontier and its inhabitants as tribal. Law assumed the task of defining both people and land in relation to what was understood as an uncivilized and untamed frontier landscape. Concurrently, law enabled the drive of colonial interests into the northeastern frontier by creating the possibility for enhanced revenue, extraction of resources, and indefinite territorial expansion. The frontier in recent scholarship is variously conceptualized in terms of physical location, geographical matrix, temporal construction, and practices of governance. In this book, the frontier hills history is examined by interrogating the multivalence of colonial law framed by concepts of space and place. The “where of law” as a critical analytic allows a reconsideration of key legal categories such as frontier, British and non-British territory, non-regulation areas, scheduled districts, hill tribal, settler proprietor, cultivator subject, among others. The book demonstrates the processes through which the frontier became not only a geographical location but a specific colonial politico-legal space.
Reeju Ray, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of International Collaboration
JSJC, O.P. Jindal Global University
Guest Researcher at MPI Legal History in Frankfurt, July-December 2023
Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Kirchweg 33, 14129 Berlin