The Past and Present: Connecting Memory,
History, and Identity
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, identity in Assam is, as else-
where in many parts of the world, a highly contested issue. The number
and type of the various groups that are making divergent claims to identi-
ties without success is, for the observer, ba∆ing. The point that has been
clarified here after examining the history, culture, and politics of Tai-
Ahom is that it is a multipurpose label renewed, time and again, in the
colonial and postcolonial periods to fulfill political, cultural, and emo-
tional needs without strictly defining the community that uses it. This has
led me to conclude that Tai-Ahom is a name in circulation but does not
mean a fixed people. Whether we approach Tai-Ahom identity as a con-
ceptual issue (like all identities, it is impermanent) or as a historical prob-
lem (the failure of institutions to create an identity that could penetrate
and stabilize community), we will conclude that identity is a process in
A problem that has become evident and is connected to this perspec-
tive is the question of the political location of people within the Indian
nation-state. For a variety of reasons, the people of Assam today feel
denied of their rights as citizens in India. In the past, during the period of
anticolonial struggle (early twentieth century), this important problem
was held in check because a single ‘‘enemy’’ (British colonial rule) was
identified to unify the diverse people within one platform. The people of
Assam were encouraged to join the movement as one of the many colo-
nized and aggrieved people of India. In the mid-twentieth century, eman-
cipated from the ‘‘enemy,’’ the nation-state emerged and selectively con-
structed the notion of a citizen, as we saw in chapter 1. Over time, the
concept of an Indian citizen was attached to particularistic identities,
initially to a civilizational location of the Gangetic plain, and, thereafter, to
a religious identity of caste Hinduism. The Indian ‘‘nation’’ dissolved into
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