Accepted paper:

Pastoralism , state policies, and identity: a case of Bhotias of Uttarakhand of central Himalayas


Nisthasri Awasthi (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

The Sino-Indian border was open and fluid until the 1962 when the defeat of India in Indo-China war resulted in the closing of both countries’ international borders. The result of this was not only physical restrictions of movements of the earlier transhumant pastoralists, but it encompasses the major issue of livelihood and identity for the people of the borderlands. This region is inhabited by the Bhotias, a pastoral transhumant community in Uttarakhand of the semi-arid region of central Himalayas. The area calls for a special kind of lifestyle where other environmental and economic factors also come into play. The mainstay of this community was a well regulated trade with neighbouring Tibet community on one side of the border and the local hill community on the other side. The signs of political upheavals started around the early 19th century during colonial regime. The series of regulations those pertaining to land and forest influenced Bhotia economy and ecology. Their movement which was earlier tied to the grazing activities of their beasts got disturbed, in turn disturbing the ecology. This colonial legacy was maintained even after Indian independence and with the closing of border their trade came to a halt. The political economy and ‘development’ policies even after independence are based on the state’s understanding of tribe. Therefore, the present situation of pastoralism and its consequences on environment of region needs to be examined at the backdrop of colonial and post-colonial understanding of the system. They now seem to have multiple identities and are trying to adjust to the state imposed identity, self imposed identity, and the identity which neighbouring communities associate with the Bhotias. This paper is, therefore, an effort to study transhumance as a sustainable means of livelihood in the light of conservation politics and political economy.

Paper long abstract:

The broad aim of the paper is to comprehend and explore the practice of transhumance as it exists among Bhotias of Himalayas with respect to the present state policies and attitude of community people towards this. The importance of transhumance calls for an economic and ecological understanding of the same. Transhumant societies the world over are fast changing in social, political and ideological sphere and particularly in India, which is in its declining phase and in years to come is likely to become extinct. An examination of changes in such societies would reveal the trend of total or partial abandonment of pastoralism. In many societies, governments have nationalized and confiscated pastures, forests and natural resources, alienating the nomadic pastoralists of their traditional and age-old rights. On the one hand, communities are abandoning transhumance as an economic practice and there is no government intervention to restore it, but in countries like Spain, the government is recognising the ecological importance of transhumance in ensuring sustainable development and conserving ecosystem. With other countries like Spain undergoing a renewal of transhumance in the name of bio-conservation, there is need to study a comparative case of policies affecting transhumance and people's attitude towards transhumance. The paper has two important connotations on social, economic and ecological aspects; one, impact on environment due to neglect of transhumance and two, the impact on social identity of pastoralists. The paper deals with social, economic and ecological understanding of transhumance, how it has changed over time and what implication it has on the identity of Bhotias as pastoralists.

panel MMM01
Himalaya: ecology, adaptability and culture