Daily Editorial Analysis for 31st July 2021

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Visualizing the Himalaya with other coordinates

Why in News

  • A conceptual audit of questions related to geopolitics and security concerns while talking or thinking about the Himalaya is perhaps long overdue.

About Himalaya

  • The Himalayas is the loftiest mountain system in the world, form the northern limit of India.
  • That great, geologically young mountain arc is about 2,500 km long, expended from the peak of Nanga Parbat in the Pakistani-administered portion of the Kashmir region to the Namcha Barwa peak in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
  • It divided into three longitudinal belts, called the Great Himalayas, Middle Himalayas and Shivalik.
  • The Himalayas are the source for the Indus, the Yangtze and the Ganga-Brahmaputra. All three are major river systems for the continent of Asia.
  • Lifted by the subduction of the Indian tectonic plate under the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayan Mountain range runs west-northwest to east-southeast in an arc 2,400 km.

A national Himalaya

  • If extroversion in the field of knowledge production has resulted in academic dependency, in the case of Himalayan studies it has given birth to the political compulsion of territorializing the Himalaya on a par with the imperatives of nationalism.
  • Thus, the attempt to create a national Himalaya by each of the five nations (Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Tibet/China) that fall within this transnational landmass called the Himalaya.
  • The National Mission on Himalayan Studies under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, is a classic case in point that provides funds for research and technological innovations, but creating policies only for the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).
  • The Mission document avowedly claims: “The Government of India has come up with this Mission in recognition of the fact that the Himalayan Ecosystem is important for ecological security of India.
  • By considering cartographic fixations as the natural limit of scholarship, we have overburdened Himalayan studies with the concerns of States in place of people, culture, market or ecology.
  • India’s understanding of the Himalaya is informed by a certain kind of realism, as the Himalaya continues to remain as a space largely defined in terms of sovereign territoriality, in contrast to alternative imaginations such as community, ecology or market.

A historical logjam

  • The Himalaya’s territorialization bears a colonial legacy which also sets up its post­colonial destiny as played out within the dynamics of nation states.
  • The arbitration of relationships between and among the five nation states falling within the Himalayan landmass has failed to transcend the approach derived from the given categories of territoriality, sovereignty and difference.
  • As such, the fact that the lines of peoplehood and the national border, especially within the context of the Himalaya, never coincided, is bound to give birth to tensions while working out projects predicated upon national sovereignty.

Borders and their differences

  • It needs to be recognised that political borders and cultural borders are not the same thing. Political borders are to be considered as space­making strategies of modern nation­states that do not necessarily coincide with cultural borders.
  • In other words, while a statist imagination has a telling effect on the way a border is understood in political terms, culture in that sense defies the (political) idea of border or at best considers it as permeable, penetrable, connective, heterogeneous and one that can be accounted for mainly through dreams, passions, flows and livelihoods.
  • The singular statist conception of a political border would then appear to become a ‘polysemic’ or even ‘rhizomatic’ when viewed in cultural terms, and, by extension, in terms of trade and ecology or the environment.
  • It needs to be realised that human security cannot be effectively appreciated through the paradigm of sovereign territoriality, although state systems operating within the Himalaya have failed to devise any other framework to grapple with the issue of security.
  • More often than not, the state has dominated the agenda of defining the domain of non­traditional security (such as human rights, cases of ecological devastation, climate change, human trafficking, migration, forced exodus of people, transnational crime, resource scarcity, and even pandemics) besides setting the tone of an approach to handling traditional security threats (such as military, political and diplomatic conflicts that were considered as threats against the essential values of themstate, territorial integrity, and political sovereignty).
  • Interestingly enough, it has often appeared as a fact that the measures to deal with traditional security threats from outside have in fact triggered nontraditional insecurities on several fronts on the inside.

Understanding the Himalaya

  • How long should one go on referring to the Himalaya as the one of the largest biodiversity hotspots? Or as the largest water tower of Asia?
  • When would these terms of references be predicated in our scholarly, and, by extension, pedestrian, attempts to understand the Himalaya and produce impactful policy research on the Himalaya?
  • The Himalaya being a naturally evolved phenomenon should be understood through frameworks that have grown from within the Himalaya. The Himalaya needs to be visualised with an open eye and taken in as a whole instead of in parts unlike the ancient parable of the efforts of the blind men in trying to understand the elephant in parts.
  • The Himalaya is a space whose history defines its geography rather than the other way round. Since histories are always made rather than given, we need to be careful about what kind of Himalayan history we are trying to inject or project in the way we imagine the Himalaya.
  • Viewing the Himalaya as a space of political power and, by extension, through the coordinates of nation states epitomizing differential national histories is a violent choice, which actually enriched ultra­sensitivity towards territorial claims and border management.


  • If we are ready to consider the Himalaya as a space that is deeply embedded in human subjectivities, we can possibly come out of the grip of a national absolute space, which is actually necessary if we are to address the concerns of trade, commerce, community, ecology and environment — issues which are no less important when we are to think of securing livelihoods, cultures and the environment in the Himalaya.
  • In fact, the roadmap of all these alternative routes, trade, community, environment, are located beyond the absolutist statist position.
  • The need is that these alternative imaginations of security should be given the required space in the way policy making, state­building strategies and diplomatic relations are worked out in relation to the Himalaya.
  • The time has come when we need to take position between the Himalaya as a national space and as a space of dwelling instead of avoiding our encounter with this ambivalence.


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