The Mongolian fringe
14 January 2013
The exodus of Northeasterners from a number of major Indian cities underlines a reality that the Indian national elites would rather not talk about
‘The Mongolian Fringe’ was the title of an official paper from 1940 authored by Olaf Caroe, the foreign secretary of the British-Indian government in New Delhi. It referenced the Himalayan region, including areas such as “Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and northern Assam”. In Caroe’s eyes, inhabitants of those regions had, as historian Alastair Lamb put it, a “predominantly Mongolian population (despite the clearly non-Mongolian nature of the Nepalese ruling family).” An unabashedly racialized view of the world characterised this genre of imperial geopolitical writing. The racial term ‘Mongolian’, according to the time’s prevailing scientific theories of race, applied to most peoples of Central and eastern Asia, including Tibetans, the Chinese and the Japanese. To colonial officials like Caroe, the divide between Mongolians and the inhabitants of “India proper” was self-evident. Talking about the Excluded Areas of Assam (now a major part of modern Northeast India), former Governor Robert Reid said that “neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically … [do the people] … have they any affinity with the people of the plains, or with the people of India proper…”
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