Artificially divided by national boundaries, the central-eastern Himalayan borderland is undergoing massive political and social transformations, entailing contestations about politics, democracy and belonging. This panel addresses these contradictory processes from different perspectives.
On the periphery of the Indian sub-continent, the central-eastern Himalayan region is undergoing a massive transformation which is manifested in its physical, social and political landscape. This geographical continuity comprising eastern Nepal, Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan has since been a space of contested political, ethnic and social boundaries. Diversity in ethnic composition and a history of economic and social marginalization complicates understandings of development, culture, politics and progress as espoused in the rhetoric of the neo-liberal state. This has led to a re-definition of the ethnic and political identities of inhabitants which now raises questions of national identity, citizenship, political autonomy, and cultural belonging. The region is also a space full of contradictions: Processes of democratization run parallel to violence and state oppression; attempts to define identity in national terms are challenged by a re-definition in ethnic terms; demands for development become juxtaposed to the recognition of citizenship. These contestations on social, historical and political grounds have been accentuated by the extraordinary rules that were historically prevalent in the region creating 'states of exception' which affects the enactment of politics in the contemporary period. The panel aims to explore these contradictions and contestations in the understanding of politics, development and culture in the central-eastern Himalaya from a variety of approaches and disciplines, stressing questions of state-society relations and opposition, borders and scales, regions and nations, tradition and modernity.