An IASH Work-in-Progress seminar, delivered by Dr Jayita Sarkar (Nominated Fellow 2022; University of Glasgow)
Battlefields/Borderlands/Bordered Lands: Rohingyas between Global War and Decolonisation
Decolonisation as a moment, process, and movement is polyvalent. I study decolonisation through its many prisms to examine the transformation of borderlands to bordered lands, mediated by the spectacular violence of the Second World War and partitions. In coastal north-eastern Burma/south-eastern Bengal, the territorial metamorphosis made the Arakanese Muslims, or Rohingyas, as they are known today, minorities in their own lands. First courted by the Japanese with promises of a “Pakistan,” and later trained and armed by the British Military Administration of Arakan, the Rohingyas emerged out of the war with new dreams of political futures that had no place in the formal decolonisation and partitions of South Asia. Decolonisation as a process transformed the Rohingyas into smugglers and insurgents— their circular migration obstructed by carceral regimes of borders and checkpoints. In response, their strategies of belonging to neighbouring nation-states took the form of scriptal politics: Nagori to belong to a Bengali identity, Burmese for Burma, Urdu for East Pakistan, and today Latin to render themselves legible to the international community. Decolonisation as a movement, namely, revisionist histories from the ground-up to reinstate the victimized as agents in their own story, can help recover the role of the Rohingya people as cosmopolitan actors with a shared maritime heritage spanning across the eastern Indian Ocean world.
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