ICS Seminar Series

Next Seminar

Date: Thursday 26 April 2018
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EZ.G.23, Conference Room 1 (Female Orphan School), Western Sydney University Parramatta South campus

Lines: The Making of India’s Northeastern Frontiers

Malini Sur (Institute for Culture and Society)


This paper explores British colonial cartographies in India’s northeastern frontiers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I situate the first printed map of the Garo Hills (now located in India) and the construction of the Rowmari-Tura road (now divided between Bangladesh and India), in the gaps of British archives and present-day village conversations. By tracing the road’s contemporary material presence in Bangladesh to its early emergence in the form of a map in India’s northeastern frontiers, I show how colonial endeavors re-ordered marshlands and hills as distinct political spheres. Infrastructures of control—surveys and maps, road repair and disrepair— transformed notions of territory, bodies and cosmologies to inscribe race. Furthermore, nature’s fury—forest fires, haze and earthquakes—intersected with political forces to pull people apart. I suggest that an ethnographic reading of old roads and maps that continue to connect regions, which states still govern as unruly terrains, foreground the changing terms of contemporary violence along the India-Bangladesh borderlands.


Malini Sur is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society and teaches anthropology at Western Sydney University. Her research addresses three lines of inquiry – agrarian borders, urban space and environment. Displacement and mobility join these three themes. She investigates these areas ethnographically and historically, and with keen attention to visual representation. She has conducted fieldwork in Bangladesh and India, and with South Asian asylum seekers in Belgium.

Malini’s publications have appeared in academic journals like Comparative Studies in Society and History, HAU, Modern Asian Studies, Mobility, City, and The Economic and Political Weekly. She has co-edited a collection of essays entitled Transnational Flows and Permissive Polities: Ethnographies of Human Mobility in Asia (Amsterdam University Press, 2012). Her photographs on South Asia’s borders and her first documentary film Life Cycle, about the politics of cycling in India, has been curated and screened internationally.

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Handel Wright presenting at the ICS Seminar Series.

Handel Wright presents at the ICS Seminar Series. The photo shows attendees sitting around table.