Centre for Himalayan Studies
UPR 299
Research Axes
> Politics, conflicts and justice
> Belonging, territories and changes
> History, knowledge and heritage
> Research on borderlands
belonging, territories and changes

- Economic, Social and Cultural Transformations in the Kathmandu Valley - Gérard TOFFIN
- Natural Resource Management, Territories and Gouvernance in the Nepalese Tarai - Olivia AUBRIOT
- Mobilities and Territory of the Nepalese - Tristan BRUSLE
- Territories, Identity and Belonging: the "shepherds of Kharnak" (eastern Ladakh) - Pascale DOLLFUS
- Territorial Restructurings, Population Mobility and Social Reorganisations in the Himalayas - Joëlle SMADJA
- The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas - Gérard TOFFIN
- Climate change - Olivia AUBRIOT and Joëlle SMADJA


Economic, Social and Cultural Transformations in the Kathmandu Valley


From 1970 to 2008, the Kathmandu Valley – the political, economic and cultural centre of the Himalayan kingdom – underwent considerable changes. The population increased fourfold, rising from 500,000 to more than two million. This demographic growth mainly results from the arrival of migrants from the hills and of Indian manpower seeking work. This demographic explosion has not stopped since 2000-2001, with the arrival of peasant populations from the Nepalese hills fleeing zones where government security forces clash with Maoist guerrillas. At the same time, the Kathmandu Valley has opened onto the outside world to a considerable degree, its population has become westernised, major problems of atmospheric pollution have emerged due to an increase in road traffic, the price of land has soared, suddenly making the old Newar rural landowning population richer. One particular study focuses on the slums set up along the two rivers, the Bagmati and Vishnumati (Urban district of Kathmandu).

Territory and Population Mobility

Natural Resource Management, Territories and Governance in the Nepalese Tarai


The Nepalese Tarai, which was sparsely populated until 1950, today accommodates more than 50% of the country's population on 10% of its national territory. Migrations from the mountains have occurred in a straight north-south direction. Many native villagers of Ashlewa (Gulmi district), a village chosen as a case study for a PhD on water management, migrated to settle there. Ten years after this PhD fieldwork enquiries are still being pursued among the population, though the focus now lies on how this mountainfolk have adapted their resource management and the organisation of their territory to conditions in the plain. Have migrants brought with them their own method of water distribution and irrigation system management? Have they transferred their knowledge to the plain environment? Have they kept the sophisticated water distribution system and strong collective action that characterise their mountain-based methods of water resource management? If this is so, what have their methods of adaptation been? If this is not the case, is it because environmental and/or social conditions differ too much? Or because there is greater State intervention and the transformation of the environment has been guided by a non-peasant approach? Furthermore, how do we characterise these new territories and their appropriation methods?

Given the questions raised here, this project encompasses the following issues:
- the dissemination of technical (water management) know-how during migrations;
- social and spatial organisation when settling in pioneering areas, having since then lost this character and presenting strong population densities;
- "water, territory and governance", or how natural resource management is territorialized and the implications for governing these resources.

Exploratory fieldwork carried out in February 2008 will help to clearly define this project.

Mobility and Territories of the Nepalese

Tristan BRUSLE

Whether temporary or permanent, population movements in Nepal are an integral part of the country's demographic history. After peasant migrations to nearby India, today sees labour migrations to faraway destinations, a sign of Nepal's integration into the world labour market.

In Nepal, labour migration contributes to how rural systems work. It constitutes a resource for farms. Whether imposed or freely chosen, Nepalese people in India follow migratory patterns (according to livelihood or accumulating strategies) which correspond to location patterns. Migrants choose their destination according to the work opportunities on offer and depending on how they can fit this around their farm work in Nepal. To become fully integrated in India, migrants have to exploit ethnic niches based on their excellent reputation. They are coolies in Uttarakhand and night watchmen in New Delhi. As they come and go, migrants set up a hierarchy of frequented or simply known places that may in return influence their migratory itinerary. This circulation widens the migrants' world. They build migratory territories whose forms vary depending on their personal goal. The greater the accumulation (purchase of land in Nepal, children's education) thanks to migration, the greater the investment in the place of migration. However, there is still a long way to go from appropriation to identification. Even though there is a real territorialisation of foreign space, it does not guarantee a new layer of identity. The shift from peasant identity to worker identity is achieved only by a limited number of migrants. For the great majority, the native village remains the essential place of belonging. (cf. "Come and go to survive or to get rich. Labour flows, migratory patterns and the building of a Nepalese world in India" PhD thesis, 2006).

Research on international labour migrations and on the creation of a Nepalese diaspora is still under way. Preliminary fieldwork in Doha (Qatar) has led to addressing the situation of the Nepalese community in its diversity, ranging from small businessmen to workers housed in labour camps. Regarding research on these temporary population movements, the study of the Nepalese diaspora is another ongoing project altogether. It focuses among other things within the ANR project on North-East India (see supra), on Indian communities of Nepalese origin that have settled in Assam and are torn between assimilation and identity claims.

Territories, Belonging and Identity: the "Shepherds of Kharnak" (eastern Ladakh)

Pascale Dollfus

Photo : P. Dollfus

In Ladakh, the territory occupies a central place in building a person's identity and in the way groups are referred to. Ethnonyms are built on place names to which one adds the suffix – pa, which means "belonging to" and may be translated by "Those from". To define oneself when referring to the Other, one's geographical location comes first.

The Kharnakpa (mKhar nag pa), "Those of the Black Castle", are one of the three nomadic pastoralist groups of Ladakh, together with "Those of Rupshu" and "Those of Korzok", living on the south-eastern edge of Ladakh. They raise goats, sheep and yaks on natural pastureland at more than 4,200 m in altitude producing for their own subsistence but also for commercial purposes. Several times a year, the entire group moves with its herds according to a precise calendar and routes, which lead it season after season to the same familiar places. Nomadism does not mean "wandering", and these "shepherds", as they call themselves, are not "men from nowhere" walking wherever their fancy takes them; they fall within a territory, even a whole series of territories:
- the tent and the house, its exact replica in stone;
- the encampments: main and secondary campsites;
- the pastureland, places for picking grasses or collecting wood, hunting grounds and even farmland sown with barley;
- the routes and locations covered during seasonal migrations and, in former times, travelled by traders venturing beyond their own land;
- the territory claimed by the community as its "land" (yul): an open space built around the monastery and the palace-mountains of local divinities.

This small pastoral society does not remain static. It goes about its daily activities and undergoes transformations. Since 1993, it has lost more than 80% of its population that has been lured away by the town, its services and promises of employment. Migrants produce new territories on land where they settle, whilst at the same time their native territory changes.

More recent research focuses on the strategies which those "who have come down " (as they call themselves) implement in order to survive in a totally different environment from the one where they were born and over which they have no control. In a word, how do these men and women for whom pastoral herding was a production system, a lifestyle, an economic activity, a social status and a form of cultural expression adapt to the town and its constraints. How do they appropriate the space set aside for them in order to build their own territory, this place for the group, in J.  Bonnemaison's words, which is "a place on which a group confers its values while confirming its identity.".

Territorial restructurings, mobility of populations and social reorganisation in the Himalayas

Joëlle Smadja

This research axis introduced in 2005 federates some of the work carried out by several researchers from the research unit (including work on territory presented above).

Over the past thirty years a new geography has been emerging in the Himalayas where territories are restructured on different scales. Our latest work has led us to trace the pattern of these restructurings which is presented below and on which current and future research is based.

This research programme involves considering forms of dividing, particularising and appropriating space, whether administrative, cultural or symbolic territories in their historical, political or identity dimensions. It focuses on the territorialisation process while attempting to answer the question: how do populations today identify with places and establish ties through new forms of expression.

The originality of the current territorial restructuring process in the Himalayas is not so much linked to a reorganisation of space –which has continued over the centuries, depending on cultural, political, economic and social changes– but to how these changes have taken place, how fast they have happened and what they imply, to the interconnection of the different scales at which they occur. They have led to a major territorial complexity combining a multitude of affiliations and actors.

We examine how –from State to village constituency level– new territories, flux and networks linking individuals to the rest of the world clash with or overlap more or less fixed administrative and political territories. Some of the aforementioned networks may be longstanding (religious, trade, migrational) ones, yet these may have changed, evolved and taken on new forms which have to be identified.

We ponder the specificities of the Himalayas compared to other regions of the world.

–On a mountain range scale, the number of protected areas (or dams) is on the increase and these lead to significant population displacements. Protected areas are real enclaves within States; Himalayan farmers are often excluded or have to comply with regulations from laws inspired by international bodies. These enclaves belong to a "world heritage" and, paradoxically, are linked to the world through tourists who are emblematic citizens representative of a Western or Westernised, rather urban, leisure-oriented society. In regions where state borders are "open" (between India and Nepal or Bangladesh in particular), these new spaces have strict limits, sometimes controlled by the army. These protected areas have a specific organization and a terminology of their own. In addition to the terms used to define them –national parks, conservation areas, reserves, etc.– they have established new spatial hierarchies bearing specific names: "buffer zones", "core zones", "corridors". These units cover, intersect with or neutralize spaces used by farmers and State administrative units. As for cross-border protected areas, they are another example of the new territorial situation introduced by environmental policies.

Can these new, demarcated, requalified spaces be regarded as territories? Though they are functional from an administrative point of view, though they are embellished with all the attributes of territories (emblems, symbols, flags, logos ...), do people really appropriate them? We focus, among other things, on these signs, on the terminology used, on the vocabulary associated with them.

We also study spaces assigned to or claimed by specific groups, to the exclusion of all others, and who have their own regulations. This has already been the case in Assam for tea plantations and Tea Tribes. Today this involves the Rabha territories in "forest villages" or Karbi land in the Karbi Anglong, Khasi land in Meghalaya and autonomous territories claimed by different communities. Many are the groups today that would like to take over land and plant their flag there at a time when globalization processes are pulling down borders. We are studying the fact that new identity claims are more and more often entrenched in the territory.

–At village community level, our focus is on two main types of territorial restructuring: on the one hand, the one occurring in the Central (Nepalese and Indian) Himalayas and on the other hand, the one taking place in the western and eastern confines of the Indian Himalayas.

• In the Central Himalayas, people are for the most part sedentary and given the –recent as far as Nepal is concerned– land register, all spaces are now clearly identified. Over recent decades, demographic growth, schooling, opening onto the outside world, political problems (in Nepal, the Maoist insurgency), but also the above-mentioned nature protection measures, the construction of dams and the economic situation at large have led to mass emigration resulting in a shortage of manpower for farm work and in a restructuring of village territories. Farming activities are now grouped around the farm (land consolidation, planting trees and installing water tanks near farms, banning common pasture and generalising the stanchion stable system), which means saving time in accessing resources. Thus, in these regions, short trips (to access resources on a slope during transhumance) are reduced or even cease to exist altogether, whereas long-distance migrations, often abroad, are on the rise. The spaces used by people are being redefined.

• In the western and eastern confines of the mountain range, where people are more mobile, where land has not always been registered (in Arunachal Pradesh, for example), there is a tendency to settle and secure land.

- This is the case in the far west, where, for instance, the last nomadic herders in Ladakh sell their herds and settle on the outskirts of Leh, the district headquarters, radically changing their lifestyle and means of production.

- It is also the case in North-East India where to varying degrees environments and populations are mobile. Major earthquakes have changed settlements over the last centuries (with whole villages being wiped away, cities being displaced ...); each year, the flooding of the Brahmaputra leads to spatial reorganizations. People wandering over this wide river from one island to another in search of land to cultivate, along with the expansion of the parks' perimeters to protect rare and endangered fauna and flora lead, throughout the mountain range, to a tense situation and to territorial conflicts, which are exacerbated here. In the low and middle mountains, where slash and burn shifting cultivation is predominant, plans to abandon this practice in exchange for settling populations and terracing slopes also result in a redefinition of territories. In these regions we have set out to examine the links between traditional village bodies (village councils) and new administrative bodies.

Throughout the range, refugees and temporary or permanent migrants create new territories on the land where they arrive, whether in the countryside or in towns, in the mountains or the plains, whilst their territory of origin changes at the same time. How does this territorialisation come about? What part do legacies, fixed situations and innovations have to play in these restructurings? What is stored and made durable? ... What part of these migrants' identity subsists in their new territories?

Whatever the scale envisaged, user groups or committees (Forest User Groups, for example), associations, NGOs, often in conjunction with international institutions –but also old or new religious networks– have scopes of action that revolve around each other, overlap, intersect or include administrative territories. We reflect on how social groups appropriate territories; which places or ties are on the wane? When new territories are created, which ones lose their relevance or disappear? How can one define these new territories, woven together for some by individuals with multiple affiliations and for others by collective bodies, communities seeking a single affiliation? How do both types coexist?

Using a few detailed examples, we study the restructuring of territories on a scale of the mountain range, as well as that of towns and villages, its impetus and its impact on societies. We are seeking to identify the part that policies and speeches delivered at national and international level have to play in decision-making at local level and to show the tension expressed between these different scales. These changes come with a territorial reorganization of rural societies that rely on agriculture less than in the past; we examine the effects of this.

In the framework of this programme, we organized an international workshop "Territorial changes and territorial restructurings in the Himalayas" (Villejuif, 17th-19th December 2007).

The politics of Belonging in the Himalayas

Coordinated by Gérard TOFFIN and Joanna PFAFF-CZARNECKA (University of Bielefeld, Germany), with the help of David Gellner (University of Oxford, UK)

Joint programme, including a series of three workshops, funded for the period 2007-2009 by the CNRS’s Office of International Relations, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, the German Research Foundation, the DFG, the European Link, the University of Bielefeld and the British Academy.

This programme has led to the creation of a network of European researchers specialised in the Himalayas. This involves going beyond the issue of collective identities and introducing a new conceptual tool into Himalayan research: that of "belonging" (or "attachment"). The coordinators of the project make the assumption that this concept is relevant to the analysis of traditional social ties and the changes they have undergone in the course of history or they encounter in the contemporary period. The first scientific symposium, "Democracy, Citizenship and Belonging in the Himalayas" was held at the India International Center in New Delhi on 19th-21st March 2007 in the presence of about sixty researchers, including nineteen guest speakers. The meeting was a success thereby validating the initial hypothesis. The conference particularly attracted the attention of the Indian researchers and scholars present. New developments are planned (see ongoing work and projects, below).

This programme has been developed in English and shall therefore not be translated here.

Further details of the programme.


Climate change and its possible consequences on the populations' practices on a village scale in Nepal

Olivia AUBRIOT and Joëlle SMADJA

French scholars: J. Smadja  & O. Aubriot
French students: T. Duplan (Agro ParisTech, 2nd year Master's); P. Buchheit (Agro ParisTech, 1st year Master's); O. Puschiasis (PhD student, Paris-X Nanterre); J. Grimaldi (Agro ParisTech, 1st year Master's); M. Hugonnet (Agro ParisTech, 1st year Master's)
Nepalese partners: N. Khanal (University of Tribhuvan) and his student; A. Dixit (NWCF: Nepal Water Conservation Foundation)

This is one of the 6 axes of the programme ANR PAPRIKA (CryosPheric responses to Anthropogenic PRessures in the HIndu Kush-Himalaya regions: impact on water resources and society's adaptation in Nepal). Over the period 2010-2013, this multidisciplinary programme brings together glaciologists, hydrologists, experts in atmosphere chemistry, model developers and geographers. Its aim is to analyse the impact of the climate on changes in glacier and snow cover, on water availability and on the populations' use of water resources.
The sector studied is to be found in eastern Nepal downstream from Everest. It has been chosen so that it benefits from measurements taken since 1990 at the scientific station EvK2 (at an altitude of 5,050 metres) situated at the foot of the range. For this research axis, four sites have been selected along the Dudh Khosi, an affluent of the Khosi, with a site in each of the main geographical units — high mountains, middle mountains, low mountains and the Terai plain — which are characterised by climatic features, but also and above all by various origins of water (from glacier, snow, rain, etc.) and resource availability. In each of the units studied and depending on the seasons, we highlight the activities and practices that rely on this resource and that are likely to be affected by climatic variations: crop and pasture calendars, varieties of plants, water use among tourists in the upper part, water supply for domestic use, drinking water supply, hydric (water mills) and hydroelectric energy, etc. We analyse how the different categories of the population conceive the water resource, how they depend on it for their economic activities and how they perceive possible changes, as well as the appropriate measures they take (from the introduction of new rituals to the setting-up of new social organisations, the introduction of new cultivated varieties, etc.).