Modern Asian Studies

Research Article

Spatial Inequity and National Territory: Remapping 1905 in Bengal and Assam*


a1 History Deparment, New York University, 53 Washington Square South, New York 10012, USA Email:


In 1905, Viceroy Nathaniel Curzon applied well-worn principles of imperial order to reorganize northeastern regions of British India, bringing the entire Meghna-Brahmaputra river basin into one new administrative territory: the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. He thereby launched modern territorial politics in South Asia by provoking an expansive and ultimately victorious nationalist agitation to unify Bengal and protect India's territorial integrity. This movement and its economic programme (swadeshi) expressed Indian nationalist opposition to imperial inequity. It established a permanent spatial frame for Indian national thought. It also expressed and naturalized spatial inequity inside India, which was increasing at the time under economic globalization. Spatial inequities in the political economy of uneven development have animated territorial politics in South Asia ever since. A century later, another acceleration of globalization is again increasing spatial inequity, again destabilizing territorial order, as nationalists naturalize spatial inequity in national territory and conflicts erupt from the experience of living in disadvantaged places. Remapping 1905 in the long twentieth century which connects these two periods of globalization, spanning eras of empire and nation, reveals spatial dynamics of modernity concealed by national maps and brings to light a transnational history of spatial inequity shared by Bangladesh and Northeast India.

(Online publication June 20 2011)


* This paper has benefited from discussions in Dhaka (at East-West University, the Fulbright Alumni Conference, and Dhaka University, Department of History), in Kolkata (at the University of Calcutta, Asiatic Society of Bengal, and Calcutta Research Group), in New Delhi (at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University), and in Singapore (at the ‘Asian Interactions’ Conference, organized by the Social Science Research Council. I thank everyone who has pushed this work along, including patient readers and editors at Modern Asian Studies, who have endured numerous revisions.