Kalimpong - from 'cosmopolitan enclave' to 'frontier space': tensions and possibilities
Anisa Bhutia (Tata Institute of Social Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper, we look at the Eastern Himalayan town of Kalimpong as heterogeneous, connected space through past and present, negotiating claims from within and without. Can it be called cosmopolitan enclave? Or rather, frontier space?Or, both? We explore the tensions, paradoxes and possibilities.
Paper long abstract:
Kalimpong is a small town in the ridge overlooking the Teesta and Relli rivers, located presently within the Indian state of West Bengal, in the Eastern Himalayas. Before the change in political-economic regimes from 1950s, the town had transregional trade connections with flow of goods, peoples and ideas resulting in interaction among different groups and heterogeneous settlements (Newaris, Marwaris, Tibetans, Europeans, etc.). In recent decades, demands for a separate state called Gorkhaland has intensified in this region largely due to the alleged neglect from West Bengal state government. Protest slogans like 'Bhutia, Lepcha, Nepali, We are the Gorkhali' clearly demonstrate an exclusionary identity politics inherent within such territorial claims. By ethnohistorical engagement with Kalimpong's everyday, we engage with this 'transformation' from a culturally heterogeneous 'glorious past' to 'neglected present' that needs 'homogenisation'. In the process, we question many concepts and highlight their underlying tension. Firstly, we challenge the associations of cosmopolitanism with modernity and big cities, asking whether heterogeneous connected spaces of exchange like 'pre-modern' Kalimpong could be called cosmopolitan. In particular, we ask whether modern processes like political territorialisation (enclaving), democratic governance and centralised trade policies led to Kalimpong's marginalisation, eventually influencing local politics of ethnic homogenisation. Finally, borrowing from Uberoi's (1978) idea of 'frontier', we attempt conceiving Kalimpong (past and present) as rich, thriving space, negotiating life of its own, sustaining global connections despite paradoxical counter-indicative categorisation - political or otherwise.
Cosmopolitan enclaves: tensions and paradoxes