'Northeastern Delhi': 'Race', space and identity in a postcolonial, globalising city

  • Rohini Rai

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the processes of racialisation and everyday racism experienced by migrants from the North-Eastern and Himalayan peripheries of the Indian subcontinent in the neoliberal centre of Delhi, and unpacks the ways in which 'race' and urban space interact to construct a racialised, urban 'Northeastern' identity in a postcolonial, globalising Global South city. This thesis is situated in the context of contemporary Delhi, which became the centre of India's neoliberal modernity after the liberalisation of Indian economy in 1991, attracting migrants from different parts of the subcontinent including those from the North-Eastern and Himalayan regions. This rise in migration was accompanied by a corresponding rise in discrimination against these migrants, who increasingly used the language of racism to articulate their experiences, giving rise to racism debates in contemporary India. Set in this backdrop, this study is based on an eight- months-long ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Delhi, including data collection methods of participant observation and informal interviews among 40 participants. This study has analysed the data thus collected through the conceptual framework of 'race' scholarship, with a particular focus on a.) the relationship between 'race', city and nation and b.) racialised identity formation; albeit conducted within the twin analytical framework of postcolonial theory and globalising city. The analysis is presented in the form of three empirical chapters, which follow a temporal theme of arriving, settling in and belonging in the city. Overall, this thesis argues that a.) the 'Northeastern' is a deeply racialised category constructed under contemporary India's postcolonial and neoliberal conditions such that the neoliberal 'Northeastern' is a direct descendant of the colonial 'Mongoloid' category. b.) By conceptualising 'Northeastern Delhi' as a material-discursive space that is produced by and reproduces the 'Northeastern' category, this thesis argues that space is central to racialisation and racialised identity formation of the 'Northeastern' in contemporary Delhi. c.) This thesis also examines the constitution of the city itself, arguing that Delhi is structured by the intersecting forces of postcoloniality and neoliberalism, which has specific racialised implications on 'Northeasterns', further revealing manifestations of 'race' that goes beyond black-white/colonised-coloniser binaries. d.) Finally, it examines the relationship of the 'Northeastern' category with the postcolonial nation, arguing that 'race' is central to the Indian nation, where the 'Northeastern' itself functions as a discursive strategy to construct an identifiable position for racialised minorities within the framework of the postcolonial nation. In doing so, this thesis ultimately sheds light upon the complexities of 'race', space and identity in a postcolonial, globalising, Global South city.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJames Rhodes (Supervisor) & Alice Bloch (Supervisor)


  • South Asia
  • Northeast India
  • contemporary India
  • Global South
  • postcoloniality
  • globalising city
  • urban
  • race and space
  • Racialisation
  • Racism
  • Race

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