IPCS Book Review

Nepal: Globalisation and Identity Politics

23 Jun, 2014    ·   4525

Sohan Prasad Sha says that the diverse case studies presented in the book tend to blur the conceptualisation of 'belonging'

Facing Globalization in the Himalayas: Belonging and the Politics of the Self
G Toffin & J Pfaff-Czarnecka (Eds).
Governance, Conflict and Civic Action-Vol 5, 484 pages
Publisher: SAGE, 2014

There are contesting ideas among academicians with regard to ‘identity’, ‘ethnicity’, ‘caste’, ‘religion’, ‘linguistic’, and ‘regional’ boundaries. Globalisation has led to the movement of people in the Himalayan as well as trans-Himalayan regions in South and West Asia, and opened up new socio-political space that has an inherent impact on these contesting ideas which often transcend national bonds or are repackaged in new narratives. In this context, researchers seek new methodological or analytical tools to reflect these complexities through the prism of “belonging” “to uncover crucial shifts in the meaningful constellations reproduced and evolving in global era.” 

This book has emerged from an earlier volume in the same series, The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas: Local Attachments and Boundary Dynamics, published in 2011. The editors of this volume, Gerard Toffin and Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka, bring together a range of dynamic contributors from diverse disciplines like anthropology, religious studies, international studies, sociology, cultural studies etc, who have been working in Nepal and Himalayan India. At best, this book problematises the myths about globalisation that is often popularised to integrate the world into a single-space and promote homogenisation. It offers a new dimension to the features of globalisation - connectivity, interdependence, and openness - as a multifaceted process impinging upon the relations of ‘belonging’.

Belonging and the Politics of Self is conveniently organised in five parts and sixteen chapters which provide historical and (trans)migration anthropological analyses and perspectives on the politics of the Himalayan region, and asserts the concept of ‘belonging’ circumstantially.

The first section, 'Shifting Horizons of Belonging', contains three essays. In chapter 2, Blandine Ripert attempts to understand the Tamang community of central Nepal where religious conversion to Christianity is a process to connect the local to the global and to avoid the full sense of belonging attached to Hinduism at the national-level, which has led to the overall marginalisation of Tamangs in their own local social space. Sara Shneiderman discusses the case of the Thangmi ethnic group (chapter 3) and narrates the story of their circular migration from Nepal (Dolkaha and Sindhupalchok district) to India (Darjeeling district) in which their ‘politics of belonging’ describes the processes of social inclusion (in India) and exclusion (in Nepal, in terms of caste, ethnic and economic exploitation). The last essay of this section by Pascale Dollfus (chapter 4) deals with the changing life of nomads, once known to be pastoralists from Ladakh in India.

The second section, 'Migrant Experiences in South Asia and Beyond', contains three essays. Jeevan R Sharma discusses the case of male migrants from rural hill villages in Western Nepal to Mumbai, India, in which the narratives of belonging (chapter 5) are attached to their identities as men and as a way to transcend their status due to material, symbolic and emotional pressure to look after their families back home. Mitra Pariyar et al. deal with Nepali diaspora communities in two social spaces (Xhapter 6), ex-Gurkhas in the UK and the Newar community in Sikkim (India), in which the UK is characterised as a weak multicultural society as compared to Sikkim. The last essay in this section by Tristan Brusle deals with Nepali labour migrants in Doha (Qatar) and Uttarakand (India). Here, the sense of belonging varies along caste and regional lines (chapter 7). For instance, the stereotype of Nepali migrant labourers as Bahadur vs Dhotiwala and Madhesis vs Pahadis blurs as well as complicates the sense of belonging.

The third section, 'Creating Transnational Belonging', contains four essays. Sondra L Hausner discuss the case study of Nepali nurse migrants to the UK and how they reconcile identity and belonging in two nation-states (chapter 8) while struggling for professional integrity and against discriminatory policies their in host country. Ben Campbell contextualises the multiculturalism aspect (chapter 9) of Manchester city, UK and the Nepali festival held there “to make a make a show of their belonging to Manchester, at the same time as their affective belonging to Nepal.” The other two essays narrate the story of Nepali immigrants in the US. Bandita Sijapati (chapter 10) draws attention to how Nepali youth feel alienated from a “sense of ‘being in America’ but not ‘belonging to America’.” The last essay in this section by Susan Hangen deals with the Gurung ethnic community (chapter 11) in the US and their sense of belonging through “promoting and preserving their [Gururg] identity abroad” and their simultaneous “commitment [to projects] to end ethnic inequality…of indigenous nationalities in Nepal.”

The fourth section, 'Globality and Activist Experience' contains three chapters. Chiara Letizia (chapter 12) shows how Buddhism among some ethnic groups like Tharu and Magar in Nepal becomes a politics of their global recognition and helps in the imagination of new forms of belonging through liberation from a discriminatory Hindu state. The two subsequent essays by Tanka Subba and Vibha Arora draw attention towards the proposed power project in Dzongu, North Sikkim, and the Lepcha community’s socio-political belonging which is “to the place and its culture” (chapter 13) and “belonging with cyber activism” ( chapter 14) to promote their identity.

The fifth section, 'National Reconfiguration', contains three chapters. Mark Turin (chapter 15) brings in linguistic assertion to (re)claim identity in the case of Nepal through Nepali vs Hindi which often blurs the sense of belonging to a community in the larger national identity. However, the Lepcha community of Sikkim (India) has constructed its own sense of belonging by “becoming Indian through Sikkimese, becoming Sikkimese being Lepcha”, while the English language acts as a glue that defies territorial boundaries. Martin A Mills (chapter 16) narrates the complex history of Tibet in the Tibet Autonomous Region to contextualise the sense of belonging in the trans-Himalayan socio-political landscape. Michael Hutt (chapter 17) discussed the sense of belonging called ‘institution (monarchy)’ to explain why the Shahs of Nepal could not survive institutionally while the Bhutanese Wangchuck monarchy survived. Moreover, the complexity of language, religions etc help to explain through comparative perspective the belongingness of the monarchy as an institution in Nepal which could not survive, while the Bhutanese monarchy did as it embodies national identity.

The bringing together of diverse case studies in one volume makes it difficult to give conceptual clarity to ‘belonging’, which blurs considerably. That being said, the volume’s introduction makes a sincere effort to distinguish ‘belonging’ and various categories like identity, religion, language, ethnicity, caste, region in theory. However, for the reader, ‘belonging’ and ‘the politics of self’ might be difficult to reconcile conceptually. The reader can certainly look forward to new insights on ground realities, problematic social and political landscapes and fascinating narratives, rather than the movement of the people of the Himalayan region.