- The state, the rebel and the chief: public authority and land disputes in Assam, India
- Development and Change
- Volume | Issue number
- 42 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Based upon an ethnographic study of two land disputes in the rural Assamese district of Karbi Anglong (India), this article challenges the idea that the entry of new institutional players, with their multiple sets of rules, inevitably leads to open institutional conflict. Although a wide range of political actors are involved in the regulation of land tenure in Karbi Anglong, they cannot be regarded as institutional structures ready to undercut one another. As in other parts of Northeast India, none of the claimants of public power involved —‘the state’, ‘the rebel’ or ‘the chief’— attain full sovereignty, which forces them to exercise authority predominantly through practices of negotiation and accommodation, and only selective contestation. If open institutional conflict does occur, as in the Dhansiri forest and the Singhason plateau cases studied here, this is due to the fact that one of the institutional players has overstretched and attempted to exercise authority beyond its realm of power. This article thus argues for a more agency-oriented method of analysis in the study of land relations. The focus on everyday interactions between ‘the state’, ‘the rebel’ and ‘the chief’ in Karbi Anglong is a first attempt in that regard.
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