Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Ropar

HSS Seminar

‘Himalayas as an Imagined Geography’


Dr. Swargajyoti Gohain

February 22, 2019, Friday, at 10:30 AM

Venue:  Conference Room 2


In the contemporary global order of nation-states, how can we think about modes of belonging that do not conform to conventional political geographies and identities? Zomia, a concept given by Willem Van Schendel and popularized by James Scott was an attempt to describe spatial identity in a non-contiguous territorial frame, for Zomia covered dispersed hill-dwelling minorities in several Southeast Asian states. I use the notion of imagined geography both in a parallel and contrasting sense to the idea of Zomia – to understand new forms of cultural identity in the Himalayan region. Based on ethnographic work in the Monyul border of Western Arunachal Pradesh. I show how in certain discursive practices in this Tibetan Buddhist cultural region, the Himalayas are reconfigured to indicate not simply physical geography, but also imagined geography. This imagined space of belonging materializes through particular visions of Monyul as a Tibetan space, supported by collective programmes for upholding Tibetan Buddhist traditions in the region. These new circuits of belonging that I call Himalayan imagined geography draws into its fold not only Monpas living in Monyul, but also Buddhist people from surrounding Himalayan regions, such as Sikkim, Bhutan, and Nepal. Although arising in and manifesting through a political demand for local Mon autonomy, the Himalayan imagined geography does not have only Monyul as its single territorial referent but covers politically discontinuous units spread across the entire Himalayas. I show how reimagining the Himalayan geography in this manner enables us to reflect on the contours of post-national geographies (Appadurai 1996) that may not have a territorial character.  

About the speaker:

Swargajyoti Gohain is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. She has a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Emory University, the U.S.A., and a Bachelors and Masters in Sociology from Delhi University. She has held postdoctoral positions in the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, Netherlands, and the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Before joining Ashoka University, she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. Her Ph.D. dissertation, titled 'Imagined Places: Politics and Narratives in a Disputed Indo-Tibetan Borderland (2013), concerning cultural politics among the Tibetan Buddhist Monpa communities of Arunachal Pradesh', will soon be published by the University of Washington Press. She has published several articles on the politics of language, development, state formation, and identity politics among Tibetan Buddhist communities in Arunachal Pradesh. She has been the recipient of Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, DAAD, and Charles Wallace India Trust award.