Visualizing the Himalaya with other coordinates

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himalayan Orogeny

Mains level : Territorialization of Himalayas

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

About the Himalayas

  • The Himalayas are a mountain range in South and East Asia separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau.
  • The range has many of Earth’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest, at the border between Nepal and China.
  • 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.
  • It consists of parallel mountain ranges: the Sivalik Hills on the south; the Lower Himalayan Range; the Great Himalayas, which is the highest and central range; and the Tibetan Himalayas on the north.
  • The Karakoram are generally considered separate from the Himalayas.

Identity of Himalayas: Only as a frontier

  • We have been examining the Himalaya mainly through the coordinates of geopolitics and security while relegating others as either irrelevant or incompatible.
  • In a certain sense, our intellectual concerns over the Himalaya have been largely shaped by the assumption of fear, suspicion, rivalry, invasion, encroachment and pugnacity.
  • If during colonial times it was Russophobia, then now it is Sinophobia or Pakistan phobia that in fact determines our concerns over the Himalayas.
  • Ironically it is the Delhi-Beijing-Islamabad triad, and not the mountain per se, that defines our concerns about the Himalayas.

A national Himalaya

  • Border issues 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) fall within this transnational landmass called the Himalaya.

India and the Himalayas

  • India’s understanding of the Himalayas is informed by a certain kind of realism, as it continues to remain as space largely defined in terms of sovereign territoriality.
  • It may be perceived that such an alternative conceptualization of Himalayas is not only possible but also necessary.

Various initiatives

  • National Mission on Himalayan Studies: It is a classic case in point that provides funds for research and technological innovations, but creating policies only for the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).

A historical logjam of territorialization

  • The Himalayas territorialization bears a colonial legacy which also sets up its post-colonial 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 lines of peoplehood and the national border never coincided; thus, it was bound to give birth to tensions while working out projects predicated upon national sovereignty.
  • Given this historical logjam, what we can only expect is the escalation of territorial disputes as the immediate fallout.

Borders and their differences

  • It needs to be recognized that political borders and cultural borders are not the same things.
  • Political borders are to be considered as space-making strategies of modern nation-states that do not necessarily coincide with cultural borders.
  • It needs to be realized that the domain of non-traditional security (cases of ecological devastation, climate change) is equally important.

Conclusion

  • The Himalaya is a naturally evolved phenomenon should be understood through frameworks that have grown from within the Himalaya.
  • Viewing the Himalayas as a space of political power is a violent choice, which actually enriched ultra-sensitivity towards territorial claims and border management.
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