As a postdoctoral fellow at IIAS, I will work to revise my doctoral dissertation into a book to be titled Himalaya Bound: Culture, Politics, and Imagined Geographies in India's Northeast Frontier. I received my doctoral degree in Cultural Anthropology from Emory University, USA in 2013. My dissertation concerns cultural politics and place-making in Monyul, a Tibetan Buddhist cultural region comprising of Tawang and West Kameng districts in west Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. For nearly three centuries, Monyul was a “vassal state” of Tibet, and the Monpas, as the communities inhabiting this region are collectively called, were part of a trans-Himalayan trade and pilgrimage circuit. But following a colonial boundary in 1914, the fall of the Tibetan state in 1951, and especially following the boundary war between India and China in 1962, border passages between Monyul and Tibet were militarily closed, and Monpas were absorbed into the Indian nation as Scheduled Tribes, entitled to affirmative action benefits. Since 2003, the Monpas, under the leadership of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche, an influential religious leader and politician, have been demanding autonomy for Monyul within Arunachal Pradesh, invoking the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution. Using “anti-essentialist” theories of space (Massey 1994), I show how these emerging forms of community construct Monyul as a Himalayan Buddhist place, even as such spatial imaginations are consistently undercut by internal oppositions as well as external pressures of region and the status of Monyul as disputed territory. Theoretically, I have been influenced by theories of place and space given by cultural geographers who draw on the work of philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, as well as by anthropologists and historians who have considered how displaced and marginal peoples articulate relations to place.
I will work in close association with the IIAS research clusters Asian Heritages and Global Asia, since my research aims to show how a minority people articulate transnational community through promotion of Tibetan Buddhist cultural heritage. Heritage claims here refer to “intangible” heritages of language and script as well the repertoire of Tibetan Buddhist cultural traditions that are used to construct community.
I am also developing a research project on the spatial transformations of Tawang from monastery center to administrative town; for which I have begun preliminary work. Tawang, a border town where I conducted my dissertation fieldwork, functioned as a centre of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism since 1680 when the Tawang Monastery was established by a disciple of the Fifth Dalai Lama. But in 1951, following the fall of Tibet, and the establishment of the first Indian political posts in the area, Tawang Monastery was co-opted into Indian administrative networks. My project proposes to study the gradual transformation of Tawang since 1951, focusing on the growth of Tawang town, establishment of Indian administrative offices and the changing relations of monastery to state and urban spaces.