Stuti Pradhan: “Gender and Citizenship in the Eastern Himalayan Borderlands”

In Students by General Account

In postcolonial states, citizenship, understood as both a regime of rights and a definition of communal membership, is shaped by socio-political and legal-territorial legacies of the colonial rule. Like other postcolonial states, India has incorporated different groups and regions during or after achieving independent statehood. To facilitate such incorporation, post-independent India has adopted differentiated citizenship status for certain regions giving them ethno-legal territorial rights with explicit access to land and other resources from that of other Indian citizens. The ethno-legal territorial rights are safeguarded by constitutionally protected provisions that gives certain regions the right to autonomous administration in view of the region’s unique ethno-cultural and historical context. However, such differentiated citizenship practice is based along gendered lines where women’s access to those protected resources are limited as compared to men. Bounded by such provisions, women are the gatekeepers and cultural reproducers of the region’s ethno-territorial identity.

In this context, my research interest lies in understanding the manifestations of such differentiated citizenship practices in the eastern Himalayan borderlands. Melding sociological and political theories of postcolonial citizenship, feminist citizenship studies and borderland studies, my research takes Sikkim as a case study, an eastern Himalayan state in India to examine the gendered practices and experiences of Sikkimese women’s differentiated citizenship rights and layered ethnic and indigenous state membership especially through the institution of marriage. It aims to understand how the legal documents that articulates women’s role as the gatekeepers of the collective ethno-territorial identity affects their personal choices in marriage, employment, property rights, etc. The research follows a qualitative mixed methodology combining a critical legal-historical analysis of the relevant legal documents and an ethnographic fieldwork using semi-structured interviews. It argues that understanding these gendered practices and experiences is necessary for understanding both the persistent obstacles
to socio-political and legal change towards gender equality for women and more broadly, the potential for a more democratic citizenship regime in the eastern Himalayan borderlands.