The State and Subaltern Assertion in the Diaspora: Towards a Pan-South Asian Identity?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

Bates offers a wide-ranging study into the formation of community identities amongst South Asians overseas. While recognising, as so many others, the place of the colonial and postcolonial states in the formation of these supposedly primordial identities, he shows how subalterns themselves used and manipulated the rhetoric of community within the daily reality of economic and political competition. He supports this with examples of migrant South Asian communities, whose primary identity is different from the identity assumed in the country of origin. For example in Mauritius idioms of communalism have been legally and politically repressed, but community identities are expressed in consumer choices. As evidence of creativity and agency the paper demonstrates how migrant communities are often associated by region and the particular history and method of their immigration rather than by caste as it is understood in the Indian subcontinent. In Sri Lanka while Sinhalese nationalists and British anthropologists tried to establish religious identities, class and ethnicity became more prominent with anti-immigrant rioting and then legislation in the 1920s and 1930s. Mohajirs – or Hyderabadi migrants – were an economically and educationally successful group in the new Pakistan, but suffered particularly after 1970 when the state became associated more with territory than ideology. A lack of political protection and opportunities has led to a rejection in many cases of the Mohajir identity and attempted assimilation into other ethnic groups. Within both the USA and UK there are extensive South Asian migrant groups, which are split internally on grounds of community, as often based upon language or region as upon grounds of religion. While there is the beginning of a pan-South Asian identity among migrants in the UK, particularly in a shared popular culture, the multiple identities whose importance vary according to space and time make this very difficult. Yet, while subaltern agency in negotiating the differing political and economic factors is most evident, the impact of colonial policies segregating and enforcing the boundaries of caste, class, race and religion can never be underestimated and in many instances exercise a powerful and continuing legacy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Citizenship, Identity and the State in South Asia
EditorsHarihar Bhattacharyya, Anja Kluge, Lion Koenig
Place of PublicationNew Delhi
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9788187374732
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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