Shifting States: Mobile Subjects, Markets, and Sovereignty in the India-Nepal Borderland, 1780-1930
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This dissertation analyzes the creation of the India-Nepal borderland and changing terms of sovereignty, subjectivity and political belonging from the margins of empire in South Asia from 1780 to 1930. I focus on particular instances of border crossing in each chapter, beginning with the exile of deposed sovereigns of small states that spanned the interface of the lower Himalayan foothills and Gangetic plains in the late eighteenth century. The flight of exiled sovereigns and the varied terms of their resettlement around the border region--a process spread over several decades--proved as significant in defining the new borderland between the East India Company and Nepal as the treaty penned after the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814 to 1816. Subsequent chapters consider cross-border movements of bandits, shifting cultivators, soldiers, gendered subjects, laborers, and, later, a developing professional class who became early Nepali nationalist spokesmen. Given that the India-Nepal border remained open without a significant military presence throughout the colonial and even into the contemporary period, I argue that ordinary people engaged with and shaped forms of political belonging and subject status through the always present option of mobility. While excluded from formal politics in Nepal and India, non-elites used mobility as an effective threat and practice when petitioning various intermediaries and government officers for limited rights. These claims structured a different relationship between sovereign and subject than found in the developing liberal tradition in the west--such claims rested upon mobility (or self-governance of the body as migrant and entrepreneurial political subject often with supposed connections to a real or potential non-state community) rather than the supposed autonomy of individual property owners. My interdisciplinary analysis rests on a thick engagement with colonial and Nepali state archives as well as Nepali literature to illuminate a history of empire from below in South Asia.
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