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Anthropology of the Himalayas

The Himalayan mountain ranges spread across Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, and India, while the Indian Himalayan Region spans Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, North Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and parts of several states of Northeast India. Many border communities living in the Indian Himalayas have histories of connection with Tibet, China and Central Asia. Once thriving thoroughfares of trade, commerce, kinship, and cultural exchange, the Himalayan border areas of India and Nepal later became as Tina Harris (2013) puts it, “geographical blind spots”, or places that that have reduced importance and are removed from national and global attention, largely as a fall-out of the India-China border conflict and the resulting military surveillance.

The Himalayas as a field of inquiry has been conceptualised in different ways by different researchers from different disciplines. In postcolonial India, the dominant theoretical framework through which the Himalayas were featured for several years was International Relations and Politics, given the background of the India-China war of 1962. The Himalayas have also been explored as an ethnographic space through anthropological work that focused on the peoples, languages, cultures, customs, politics, and religions in the Eastern, Central and the Western Himalayas, as the divisions are termed in academic and policy circles. More recent works have approached it through the prism of border studies and connected histories by focusing on the intersecting histories and geographies of the Himalayas.

This course explores the scope of a Himalayan anthropology that is both inter-disciplinary and trans-border in its approach. For example, some anthropologists have used an inter-disciplinary lens to study processes of human- nonhuman conflict, climate change and environmental struggles in the Himalayas. Anthropologists have also studied the Indo-Tibetan interface – of culture and politics, religion and language, trade and commerce, kinship and friendship, economies and ecologies, oral histories and medicine traditions – in the Himalayas. What are the ethnographic insights and theoretical concepts that we can take away from such anthropological works? What is unique to the social movements for identity, environment, and sovereignty in the Himalayas? How can anthropology contribute and yet critically engage with the area studies paradigm of Himalayan Studies? How can we interrogate the exoticisation of the Himalayas in different literatures? What is the research methodology that we have to adopt in order to conduct ethnographic work in the Himalayas? This course engaged with a range of ethnographic works, fiction, travel accounts, and films to understand what it means to do an anthropology of the Himalayas.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka