Doctoral project: Eastern Himalayan Borderlands: Region, Community, Labour and Environment in Twentieth Century India

This project aims to analyse the formation of a gendered colonial subjecthood(s) in the Eastern Himalayan region of India, and its effects on trade, mobility, community formation and the environment. It is specifically interested in the Bhutan-China-Myanmar borders surrounding present day Arunachal Pradesh, India to study this formation as deeply entangled within border ecologies of the period in question (1911-1950s).

Project information

Doctoral student
Brinda Kumar
Gunnel Cederlöf
Assistant supervisor
Bengt Karlsson, Stockholm University
History (Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

More about the project

My doctoral project is located at the intersection of a global history of borders and mobility, historical anthropology, and the environment. It aims to examine how India’s Eastern Himalayan borderlands formed a unique site for the expansion of colonial capital within three ‘frontier’ zones which include the Bhutan-China-Myanmar borders.

It seeks to chart the histories of transnational migration and cross border trade in the 20th century by focusing on the inflow of goods such as opium, guns and ammunition, and how this in turn affected the relationship between the colonial state, communities and natural resources. It attempts to move beyond the confines of empire to understand how ‘colonial enterprise’ and the discourse of illegality/legality surrounding the flow of goods were crucial to understanding how ‘frontier tensions’ were framed around India’s uncertain postcolonial landscape, which followed an overtly developmentalist strategy.

My research thus aims to understand how subjecthood in the Eastern Himalayas was deeply entangled with different sites of knowledge production between colonial administrators, anthropologists, ‘plains’ communities and missionaries and was an extremely gendered process. These different actors came to determine how the region came to be made and unmade throughout the 20th century, and the research seeks to move beyond its construction as a contested space, focusing instead on how people navigate the geographies they inhabit.

The project is part of the research in:
Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies