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A ‘Remote’ Town in the Indian Himalaya*

  • NAYANIKA MATHUR (a1)

Abstract

This article studies the impact of the creation of a new state in northern India through an analysis of space. The space under consideration is the town of Gopeshwar, which serves as the administrative headquarters of a district in the state of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand was created as a distinct Himalayan state in 2000 after a prolonged period of mass agitation to this end. The movement for statehood had emphasized historical neglect coupled with exploitation of the mountains of Uttarakhand by the plains. Beginning with an analysis of the town plan, this article moves on to describe how this place is made into a space by everyday practices. In particular it concentrates on the narratives of agents of the state who express a longing to escape this ‘remote’ town. Through an interrogation of the trope of remoteness, this article argues that the creation of the new state has served, ironically enough, to accentuate the traditional characterization of the Himalaya as a backward, inferior space within India.

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Acknowledgements: This article began life as the first chapter of my PhD thesis and has, hence, not only gone through multiple iterations but has also been read and/or heard by numerous people. Thanks are due to Amita Baviskar, Franck Bille, James Laidlaw, Sian Lazar, Tapsi Mathur, Perveez Mody, Sara Shneiderman, and audiences at the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. I am particularly grateful to David Sneath for his constant enthusiasm for this piece, and to Veena Das and the anonymous reviewers at Modern Asian Studies for pushing me to arrive at the point.

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1 Coetzee, J. M. (2004). Waiting for the Barbarians, Vintage, London, p. 17.

2 Kumar, N. (2006). Provincialism in Modern India: the multiple narratives of education and their pain, Modern Asian Studies, 40:2, pp. 397423, p. 397.

3 http://chamoli.nic.in/, [accessed 21 August 2014].

4 Gram, Dasholi, Mandal, Swarajya (DGSM) (1997). Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal, Micro Mint, Dehra Dun, p. 6.

5 ‘Chipko’ translates literally as ‘to hug’. The Chipko movement was thus named because it advocated the practice of hugging trees in order to prevent their felling for commercial purposes. The movement was sparked off in 1974 in Chamoli district. It is worth noting that the current description of environmentalists as ‘tree huggers’ has its roots in the Chipko movement.

6 Kumar, P. (2000). The Uttarakhand Movement: Construction of a Regional Identity, Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi, p. 106.

7 Mawdsley, E. E. (1997). Nonsecessionist Regionalism in India: the Uttarakhand Separate State Movement, Environment and Planning A, 29:12, pp. 22172235; Kumar, The Uttarakhand Movement.

8 Kumar, P. (2001). Uttarakhand: one year after, Economic and Political Weekly, 36:51, pp. 46924693, p. 4692

9 Ludden, D. (2012) Spatial Inequity and National Territory: remapping 1905 in Bengal and Assam, Modern Asian Studies, 46:3, pp. 483525.

10 De Certeau, M. (1988). The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, London, p. 117.

11 Ibid; Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, Blackwell, Oxford.

12 See, for example, Massey, D. (1994). Space, Place and Gender, Polity, Cambridge; Strange, C. and Bashford, A. (eds) (2003). Isolation: Places and Practices of Exclusion, Routledge, London; and Moore, D. S. (2005). Suffering for Territory: Race, Place, and Power in Zimbabwe, Duke University Press, Durham and London.

13 Ludden, Spatial Inequity and National Territory.

14 Ludden, D. (2012). Imperial Modernity: history and global inequity in rising Asia, Third World Quarterly, 33:4, pp. 581601, p. 582.

15 Rangan, H. (2000). Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Himalayan History, Verso, London.

16 Mawdsley, E. E. (1998). After Chipko: from environment to region in Uttaranchal, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 25:4, pp. 3654; Kumar, The Uttarakhand Movement.

17 Ibid.

18 Davis, D. (1999). The Power of Distance: re-theorizing social movements in Latin America, Theory and Society, 28:4, pp. 585638, p. 606.

19 Jayal, N. G. (2000). Uttaranchal: same wine, same bottle, new label?, Economic and Political Weekly, 35:49, pp. 43114314, p. 4311.

20 Pathak, S. (1997). State, Society and Natural Resources in Himalaya: dynamics of change in colonial and post-colonial Uttarakhand, Economic and Political Weekly, 32:17, pp. 908912, p. 908.

21 Walton, H. G. (1910). A Gazetteer of the Garhwal Himalaya, Natraj Publishers, Dehradun, p. 68. Looking down on hill people is a generic feature of hills−plains political cultures, as the word ‘hillbilly’ indicates. It derives from the dominant view circulating from the plains and, as an anonymous reviewer of this article has pointed out, this is true not just for India and/or Uttarakhand. For instance, Li notes that hill people in Indonesia's upland Sulawesi frontier also judge each other by a set of standards derived from, and centred on, the coast. Much like the mountains of Uttarakhand, in Sulawesi too, the further away in the mountains people live, the more ‘backward’ they are generally considered to be. Li, T. M. (2001) Relational Histories and the Production of Difference on Sulawesi's Upland Frontier, The Journal of Asian Studies, 60:1, pp. 4166.

22 The differences were temporarily subsumed under the common category of the pahar during the movement for statehood; Jayal, Uttaranchal: same wine, same bottle, new label.

23 Walton, Gazetteer of the Garhwal Himalaya, p. 69.

24 Pahari, R. (2005). Aniket: Janpad Chamoli Ank, Valley Offset Press, Dehradun, p. 19.

25 In a similar vein, James Holston's analysis of the modernist capital city of Brasilia in Brazil makes the point that the idea of a capital city serving as a seat of administrative power is not appealing enough to its planners. It must, in addition, function as an exemplary centre by serving as a model for the nation's future development. Holston, J. (1989) The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

26 Government of Uttar Pradesh (1995). Chamoli-Gopeshwar Mahayojana Praroop (1995–2016), Municipal Corporation Publications, Gopeshwar-Chamoli, p. 18.

27 Kennedy, D. K. (1996). The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj, University of California Press, London; King, A. (1976). Colonial Urban Development: Culture, Social Power, and Environment, Routledge, London.

28 King, Colonial Urban Development.

29 Kanwar, P. (1990). Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj, Oxford University Press, Delhi, p. 250.

30 Kennedy, The Magic Mountains.

31 King, Colonial Urban Development, p. 170.

32 Kennedy, The Magic Mountains, p. 9.

33 It is worth pointing out that these retreats to hill stations were not necessarily convenient. Thus, in the case of the summer capital of Simla, the entire government of India would travel over 1,200 miles from Calcutta, across the length of the Indo-Gangetic plain. Interestingly, Kanwar writes that this move was criticized on many grounds, one of them being ‘the remoteness and isolation of the bureaucratic machine from the realities of the plains below for more than half the year’: Kanwar, Imperial Simla, p. 43.

34 Lal speculates that the employment of the term ‘hill station’ is linked to the space's associations with notions of retreat, pilgrimages, and prestige or the achievement of a certain ‘station’ in life. See: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/British/HillStations.html, [accessed 21 August 2014].

35 Ludden, Imperial Modernity, p. 584.

36 I lived in a single-room police barrack adjoining the ‘servant quarters’ in the back garden. As my research involved working with the local state officials, Kund was a perfect residential location for me.

37 Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Random House, New York, p. 201.

38 See, for example, Mishra, P. (1995). Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India, Penguin, India; Chatterjee, U. (1988). English, August: An Indian Story, Faber and Faber, London.

39 Orwell, G. (1950). Shooting an Elephant and other Essays, Secker and Warburg, London, p. 6.

40 Simmel, G. (1950). The Secret and the Secret Society. In The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. and ed. Wolff, K.H., The Free Press, New York, p. 337.

41 Kennedy, The Magic Mountains, p. 5.

42 For instance, Kipling, R. (1987) [1888]. Plain Tales from the Hills, Penguin, Harmondsworth; Scott, P. (1968). The Day of the Scorpion, Heinemann, London; Farrell, J. G. (1981). The Hill Station: An Unfinished Novel, and an Indian Diary, ed. Spurling, John, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

43 Pigg, S. L.Inventing Social Categories Through Place: social representations and development in Nepal, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 34:3, pp. 491513.

44 The ‘Abode of Gods’ is Uttarakhand's chosen sobriquet for itself.

45 Anderson notes that the British representation of ‘caste’ and the ‘losing of caste’ through travel across the supposedly polluting waters was not fully shared by the convicts. After Independence in 1947, nationalist historiography, popular culture (Hindi films such as Kala Pani), and the post-colonial state's representations has had the paradoxical effect, she convincingly argues, of resurrecting the colonial state's discourse of the power of kala pani. Anderson, C. (2003). The Politics of Convict Space: Indian Penal Settlements and the Andaman Islands, in Strange and Bashford (eds) Isolation.

46 De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 118.

47 Mofussil is a common word used in India to describe a place as provincial or out in the sticks. It originally meant regions that were outside the command of the East India Company's capitals of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, hence it carries connotations of being beyond the properly governed space and ‘wildness’.

48 Pathak has noted precisely this lack of belonging as a reason for the weak anti-Tehri Dam movement. He writes, ‘It must be also understood that outmigration for the last 100 years has made the people of Uttarakhand careless and insensitive about their roots. They can leave their mountain home, land, pasture, forest and culture for just a house in Tarai-Bhabhar and Dun areas or in the plains anywhere.’ Pathak, S. (2005). Submersion of a Town, Not of an Idea, Economic and Political Weekly, 40:33, pp. 36373639, p. 3639.

49 Gray, J. N. (2000). At Home in the Hills: Sense of Place in the Scottish Borders, Berghahn Books, New York and Oxford, p. 3.

50 Gupta, A. and Ferguson, J. (1992). Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference, in Gupta, A. and Ferguson, J. (eds) Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, Duke University Press, Durham, pp. 8, 3351.

51 Mamgain, R. P. (2008). Growth, Poverty, and Employment in Uttarakhand, Labour and Development, 13:2, pp. 234261.

52 For example,Guha, R. (2000). The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, University of California Press, Oakland; Pathak, S. (1985). Intoxication as a Social Evil: Anti-Alcohol Movement in Uttarakhand, Economic and Political Weekly, 20:32, pp. 13601365.

53 Lefebvre, The Production of Space.

54 Arnold has highlighted the role played by Romanticism in the love and admiration that the British often professed for the Himalaya. ‘Few Europeans,’ he writes, ‘were unmoved by the Himalaya.’ Arnold, D. (2005). The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800–1856, Delhi, Permanent Black, p. 102.

55 Government of Uttar Pradesh, Chamoli-Gopeshwar Mahayojana Praroop (1995–2016).

57 Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians, pp. 17–18.

* Acknowledgements: This article began life as the first chapter of my PhD thesis and has, hence, not only gone through multiple iterations but has also been read and/or heard by numerous people. Thanks are due to Amita Baviskar, Franck Bille, James Laidlaw, Sian Lazar, Tapsi Mathur, Perveez Mody, Sara Shneiderman, and audiences at the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. I am particularly grateful to David Sneath for his constant enthusiasm for this piece, and to Veena Das and the anonymous reviewers at Modern Asian Studies for pushing me to arrive at the point.

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