Using Case Study Method Analysis to Explore the Indo-Myanmar Borderland Communities
This research project focuses on the resurgence of Kuki-Chin ethnic nationalism in the Indo-Myanmar borderlands. The tribe known as Kuki in Manipur is known as Chin in Myanmar—they live on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border. Their land was annexed by the British in the 19th century and, during decolonization, divided between the new countries of India and Myanmar. The Kukis have a history of anticolonial resistance, and they have launched postcolonial ethnic nationalist movements to claim an autonomous state. In 2009, the Indian and Myanmar governments started investing in a hydropower project named Tamanthi in the borderland districts of Myanmar. There were protests against that project, because construction would have not only caused large-scale displacement but also led to the erasure of the sacred geography of the Kuki-Chin, and these protests led to the cancelation of the project. The specific research case of the movement against Tamanthi in Myanmar discussed here demonstrates a context in which the Kuki-Chin identity was politicized and forged, which not only stalled the project but led to the resurgence of ethno-nationalist demands on both sides of the border. Through this case study, we analyze the dilemmas, ambivalence, and processes of doing research in borderland communities, and demonstrate that these communities cannot be studied through the standard methodologically nationalist and realist paradigm, that is, a cross-country comparison of cases. To appreciate how and why ethno-nationalism and secessionism emerges whenever there is a state intervention for “development,” we need an “ethno-historical,” constructivist, and “emic” understanding of the making of these borderland communities and the liminal spaces they inhabit.