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   The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
05 Oct 2011

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‘US’ versus `THEM’

When European settlers in America were encroaching upon the land of native Red Indians, the white man had asked the Red Indian King, ‘Does this land belong to you? The response was not only rooted but innocent, ingenious and reflective. The King had replied, ‘No Sir! This land does not belong to me, I belong to this land.’ Since that day, the colonial masters carefully reversed the concept of ownership such that it could be financially transacted.

The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas is based on a conference proceeding which had drawn anthropologists, political scientists, historian and geographers to piece together many facets of societal formations through recorded history and capture its relevance in the context of changing contours of social and political development in the Himalayas. Organized in three sections, 14 papers in the book are an experience in commonality, connectedness and cohesion.

The concept of ‘belonging' is ephemeral in the present world, ‘economics’ having been the driver of ownership and control. ‘To belong is to be accepted as part of a community, to feel safe within it and to have a stake in the future of such a community of membership’ may have little bearing in real life. Belonging, as a reflection of identity, has long been bargained for material gains. No wonder, rehabilitation and resettlement have replaced the idea of belonging.

Packed with interesting case stories from across the Himalayas, the rich discourse offers interesting insights on addressing emerging conflicts by applying the idea of ‘belongingness’. The authors argue that belonging in many ways is a ‘thicker’ concept than of collective identities. While collective identities are often political in nature, belongingness makes apolitical distinction from the social perspective of inclusion and exclusion.

Without belonging, one suffers alienation and rootlessness. Across the Himalayas, such alienation of communities has been the trigger for social maladies and political conflicts. The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas is an academic treatise but its messages are subtle and relevant to those who have viewed the ‘mountain crises’ from a ‘deficit development’ perspective alone. There is more to the Himalayas than just marginality, fragility and remoteness.

The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas
by Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka & Gerrad Toffin (Eds)
Sage, New Delhi
346 pages, Rs 850

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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