Empire’s Garden: Assam and the Making of India
In the mid-nineteenth century the British created a landscape of tea plantations in the northeastern Indian region of Assam. The tea industry filled imperial coffers and gave the colonial state a chance to transform a jungle-laden frontier into a cultivated system of plantations. Claiming that local peasants were indolent, the British soon began importing indentured labor from central India. In the twentieth century these migrants were joined by others who came voluntarily to seek their livelihoods. In Empire’s Garden, Jayeeta Sharma explains how the settlement of more than one million migrants in Assam irrevocably changed the region’s social landscape. She argues that the racialized construction of the tea laborer catalyzed a process by which Assam’s gentry sought to insert their homeland into an imagined Indo-Aryan community and a modern Indian political space. Various linguistic and racial claims allowed these elites to defend their own modernity while pushing the burden of primitiveness onto “non-Aryan” indigenous tribals and migrant laborers. As vernacular print arenas emerged in Assam, so did competing claims to history, nationalism, and progress that continue to reverberate in the present.
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Agarwala Ahom American Baptist Anandaram Aryan Asomiya language Assam Company Assam tea Auniati became Bengal Bengal Presidency Bengali language Bhuyan Bodo Brahma Brahmaputra valley Brahmin British o≈cials Buranji Burmese Calcutta Census Chinese claimed colonial Company’s coolies cultivation cultural Dhekial Phukan di√erent di≈cult district e√orts East Bengali East India Company economic Úlites frontier Gosains Goswami groups Gunabhiram Barua Guwahati Haliram Harakanta Hemchandra Hemchandra Barua hill Hindu Ibid imperial tea garden improvement inhabitants jati Jaymati Jorhat Kachari Kaibarta Kaya Lakshminath land linguistic literary Lower Assam Maniram migrants missionaries modern mother-tongue Muslim Naga nation Nepali nineteenth century o√ered opium Orunodoi Padmanath Gohain peasants plantation planters political population Province ofAssam publicists race racial recruitment regime region religious Report revenue rice Sankardeb Sanskrit satra Sibsagar Singpho social sought South Asia Sylhet tea enterprise tea garden tea industry tea plant tion trade tribal tribes Upper Assam Vaishnavite vernacular villages women