Symposium on Eastern Himalayas and Border Thinking in a Post-COVID 19 World

deadline for submissions: 
November 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Yonphula Centenary College, Bhutan

Symposium on
Eastern Himalayas and Border Thinking in a Post-COVID 19 World
26 and 27 March, 2021
Yonphula Centenary College
Bhutan

The region often referred to as Eastern Himalayas includes eastern Nepal, Northeast India, Bhutan, Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan province of China and northern Myanmar. The areas in this region are often viewed by scholars as forming a geo-cultural unit due to their shared cultural, ethnic, linguistic features, besides their geographical proximity. The recent postcolonial history of this region has put an end to the vibrant trans-cultural character of this region, while the evidence of the past connections are evidenced by the intense biocultural diversity and richness which can still be found throughout the region. Postcolonial nation building processes in the area have resulted in the drawing of hard international borders among the parts of a region which had previously acted as a vibrant corridor for trade-related interactions and human migration.

Much of the Eastern Himalayas also forms part of the area described by Willem van Schendel, James C. Scott and other anarchist scholars as ‘Zomia’. The singular characteristic that integrates this area for the anarchist scholarly imagination is its being the “largest remaining region of the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation-states” (Scott 9). Scott and others view this region as being populated by groups which are fundamentally self-governing in character and which have actively resisted state-making processes through the adoption of strategies such as “physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structure, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders” (ibid.). The category Zomia makes a reference to the areas straddling the Southeast Asian massif, it includes the high altitude areas lying at three hundred metres and above the MSL. But this scholarly approach is based upon an assumed intrinsic disjuncture between the highland areas and the low-lying valley areas within or in their vicinity and it draws sharp boundaries between the hills and the valleys as socio-cultural units. This discourse of difference has in fact become dominant in all scholarly and laymen approaches to understanding and imagining the region. However, an understanding of these upland areas in isolation from the valleys lying amongst them fails to recognize the deep rooted and symbiotic relationships that continue to exist between the hills and valleys.

This study finds the category Eastern Himalayas be more appropriate and useful for scholarly discourse as it enables the overcoming of such oversight and erasure of the vital synergy that has always existed between highlands and valleys in this region which is in fact a crucial underlying factor in shaping its distinctive characteristics as a geo-cultural unit. But as even James C. Scott points out, the non-statist character of this region is not far from its impending end. State-making processes overtook the last remaining frontiers of this region by the fourth quarter of the last century, which has significantly altered its trans-cultural nature. The process has also resulted in the drawing of hard political boundaries that have divided the Eastern Himalayas into mutually isolated political units. Migration and resultant conflict as well as assimilation have been the primary features of this region throughout its history prior to the emergence of nationalisms in this part of Asia. Postcolonial nation-building processes have abruptly blocked the flow of people, goods and ideas across the region, which has resulted in its transformation from a vibrant corridor and a centre of cultural and economic exchange into a ‘hinterland’. In the beginning of the current pandemic crisis, this area was in fact seen as a relatively safe haven due to its ‘isolated’ and ‘remote’ character. This symposium seeks to analyse this ‘remoteness’ of this region from a politico-historical perspective.

While trans-border population movements are still a reality for the postcolonial states in this area, these are now categorized into ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ movements and attempts to define the legality or illegality of population flows continue to dominate the political landscapes of these nations. These attempts are again closely connected to the ethno-nationalist aspirations which form another dominant discourse in the political climate throughout the region, specifically in Northeast India, Tibet, Yunnan and Northern Myanmar. Legal mobility in these spaces are now directed to or from metropolitan centres of power within the state of which they form frontier territories. It is the remoteness of these now frontier areas from the locations of power in terms of physical as well as cultural distance, besides their marginal position within the political economy and socio-political imagination of the nations to which they belong, which has resulted in the ‘remoteness’ and ‘inaccessibility’ of these frontier areas. Drawing of hard international boundaries has isolated these areas from each other and brought an abrupt end to the mutual socio-cultural interactions that had been hitherto nourishing them.
However, much of the world has proceeded from nationalism into a post-nationalist era. Continental Europe, the very birthplace of nationalism, has moved into a postmodern setting where globalization, economic internationalization, end of Cold War polarisations and the increasing influence of digital information systems and the Worldwide Web have led to a gradual decline in the significance and efficacy of international borders which is symptomatic of the growing antiquation of nation-states as the absolute arbiters of citizenship and sovereignty. Similar attempts at forging transnational economic, if not political, collaborative units have emerged in almost every other continent.

Even as scholars debate whether the current century is one where the great era of nationalism has come to a close, or whether it continues to exert its presence in the form of resurgent fundamentalisms and tribalisms, much of Asia continues to sustain national boundaries and international borders as a powerful mode of demarcation in political and economic organization. The modern political boundaries that criss-cross the Eastern Himalayan region, are less than a century old. They continue to hold up as very real and very hard borders, which have also witnessed international hostilities and military engagements. Yet, it would not be overhasty to acknowledge the fact that this region too is at the threshold of its postmodern moment. The current pandemic has foregrounded the very real presence of globalizing forces and the extent of its reach till such ‘remote’ places as the one under discussion. While epidemics in the past century were largely confined to isolated locations, the speed with which the SARS-Corona Virus 2 has been able to engulf the global population to various degrees is another stark reminder of the power and ambit of globalization.
This symposium aims to probe the future of frontier regions such as the Eastern Himalayas in a Post-COVID 19 world. Here, I use the term post-COVID 19 to mean the period that begins with the spread of the Corona Virus to different parts of the world, and not a period after the virus or its threat has ceased to exist. India’s Look-East Policy and its more recent recasting as the Act-East Policy, which aims at building regional economic and cultural co-operation between neighbouring nations of the Asia-Pacific, are partly a recognition of the age old transnational ties that exist between various parts of this region, including those of the Eastern Himalayas, and the need to revive them. But with the travel restrictions and withdrawal of cultural and political entities across the globe from mutual interactions in order to protect the interests of their own national populations in fighting the spread of the virus have unfolded a new dimension inherent in the march of globalization. Already the fault lines in the EU model have been exposed by Brexit and rising anti-immigration sentiments in the trans-Atlantic quarter. The pandemic has halted the trans-border movement of people and slowed down global supply chains. A global economic downturn could lead to a resurgence of protectionism and nationalism, along with strengthening the legitimacy and authority of the state resulting from an increased dependence upon the state for providing health services and economic assistance. While the worldwide pandemic requires multilateral action and global solidarity to fight the virus, the international community has failed to garner sufficient co-operation and most nations have responded by closing down its frontiers in order to control the impact of the virus domestically. It would be a matter of close observation and analysis whether this will result in a deceleration of the globalization process or it will produce further regional co-operation between nation-states to tide the economic and health-care impacts of the pandemic, which in turn would mean opening up of national borders and a gradual erasure of cultural and national boundaries, to be eventually replaced by a global consumerist culture. It is also a matter of conjecture whether an impending economic crisis will lead to global power shifts, which could eventually result in a reshuffling of the geo-political dynamics in the Eastern Himalayas. This symposium seeks to imagine Eastern Himalayas as a shared geo-cultural unit and aims to bring together scholarly explorations into the peculiar historical and cultural dynamics in and around the region vis-à-vis the possible changes they are likely to undergo in the post-COVID 19 global set up.

The symposium will be multidisciplinary in nature and 300-word abstracts within/along this conceptual framework, along with complete CV, are invited to be submitted to rajashreeb.ycc@rub.edu.bt by 30 November, 2020.

Acceptations will be notified by December 15, 2020. A maximum of 20 abstracts will only be accepted for presentation during the two-day symposium. There will be no parallel sessions.

There is no registration fee. Participants will be provided food and accommodation during the symposium dates at the college premises. Transport to the college from the Indo-Bhutan border may be provided contingent upon travel guidelines issued by the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Full papers must be submitted by March 15, 2021.

This symposium is planned to provide multidisciplinary perspectives for compiling an edited volume of scholarly essays, tentatively titled Eastern Himalayas and Border Thinking in a Post-COVID 19 World to be edited by Dr. Rajashree Bargohain and to be published by Routledge, India as a part of the proposed Routledge book series – ‘Academia, Politics and Society in a Post-Covid World’. The deadline for submitting selected revised papers for publication in the edited volume will be notified after the symposium.

Any further queries regarding the symposium or the proposed edited volume can be posted to rajashreeb.ycc@rub.edu.bt

Details regarding the proposed book series can be found below.

Routledge Book Series Proposal
Title: Academia, Politics and Society in a Post-Covid World
Series Editors: Prof. Lewis Gordon, Prof. Rozena Maart, Dr. Epifania Amoo-Adare and Dr. Sayan Dey

Introduction:
The biomedical crisis of Covid-19 has opened up gateways for various other forms of crisis like communal violence, racial discriminations, geographical hierarchies, socio-political hegemonies, academic exclusivities, etc. These crises have ensured massive geo-political shifts of the various epistemological and ontological frameworks of knowledge production across the globe. The shifts are bound to influence the patterns of thinking and doing in the Post-Covid era. With respect to the various crises, this book series make an effort to focus on the various forms of academic, social and political transformations that are expected to take place in the Post-Covid World. With the advent of Covid-19, the pedagogical frameworks, curricular structures, institutional infrastructures, evaluation patterns, international policies, political ethics, communal relations, gender existence, racial connotations, mental health and physical wellbeing have undergone major shifts which will continue to take place in the Post-Covid era. With respect to academic shifts, on the one side many academic institutions have shifted their teaching and research courses online and on the other side many institutions were compelled to shut down their courses temporarily due to lack of sufficient technological infrastructures. Moreover, the online classes that are conducted through the various platforms have been affected with security breaches, zoom bombing, etc. Such infrastructural and situational challenges have re-configured the already existing hierarchies in knowledge production across the globe, which are widely based on one’s class, caste, cultural, social, political, racial, geographical and gender belongingness. But, many organizations across the world are upholding digitization as a practice of academic inclusivity. There are some universities, which have already decided to shift all their educational courses online for the rest of 2020. Some institutions have even opened up certain courses for general public for free of cost. Altogether, these aspects have created a mixed impact on the academic systems across the globe. With respect to politics, the countries are experiencing several shifts in terms of social, cultural, economic and political policy making that are bound to bring major changes in internal as well as international relations. It can already be seen that countries like New Zealand, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Vietnam, Bhutan etc. have started re-framing policies with respect to educational, economic and touristic exchanges in the Post-Covid era. With respect to the societal systems, on the one side the already existing racial, communal and cultural differences have aggravated and on the other side there is a consistent search towards new forms of solidarities, reconciliations and humanness. Keeping these scenarios at the forefront, this book series will critically analyze the various forms of transformations that are going to take place in the academic, social and political systems across the globe in the Post-Covid era.

Questions to be addressed/Objectives:
Some of the questions that underlines the objectives of this series are as follows:
• What are the various forms of transformations that are going to take place in the academic, social and political systems across the globe in the Post-Covid era?
• What are the different forms of social, cultural, racial, political, geographical and economic impact these transformations are going to generate?
Possible Themes:
With respect to the questions, this book series on the Post-Covid world looks forward to receive proposals for monographs on the following (not limited to) thematic dimensions:
• Pedagogical Frameworks
• Curricular Structures
• Institutional Infrastructures
• Evaluation Patterns
• Digitisation/Non-Digitisation
• Epistemological Inclusivity
• Anti-Racism
• International Relations and Exchanges
• New forms of Solidarities
• New forms of Fragmentations
• Internal and International Policy Making
• Mental Health and Physical Wellbeing

Uniqueness of this Project:
Some of the unique perspectives that this book series can generate are as follows:
• As the book series is going to engage with the issues of Post-Covid transformations in the academic system across the globe, therefore, it will have a strong potential to be highly inclusive in nature. In other words, the monographs that will be published under this series are expected to be highly appealing to the readers who are interested in this area of research, irrespective of their academic and non-academic affiliations. Apart from individual enthusiasm, different academic institutions will also be interested in cataloguing it and introducing the monographs as a part of their syllabuses under different disciplines.
• The Post-Covid theme of the book series will not only argue about the possible academic, social and political developments/transformations in the Post-Covid world, but will also function as a diverse archive of reference for impending pandemic crisis in the future.
• The book series will also acknowledge a lot of flexibility by accommodating proposals for short manuscripts (20000 to 30000 words) as well as for long manuscripts (80000-100000 words). Such a form of flexibility is expected to create a lot of enthusiasm amongst the contributors. Moreover, the low-cost option of producing the monographs (especially the short manuscripts) will enhance the affordability of the books.
Competitive Titles:
So far, this proposed book series do not have any competitive title. There are a few research articles that touches upon the question of academic shifts, but they are mostly focused on the experiences during Covid-19.

Expected Outcome:
Altogether, this book series is expected to generate a long-term dialogue amongst academicians, researchers, scholars and activists on the different challenges and possibilities of academic transformations in Post-Covid world. This series idea has already started gaining attention and I would like to share a few reflections on it. Diana Fox, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Bridgewater State University feels that it the idea of the Routledge book series in general and the idea of this book series on “Academic Shifts in Post-Covid World” in particular has all the potential to be a very impactful and thought-provoking project. Ajay Gudavarthy, Assistant Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University believes that introducing such a book series is extremely crucial at this point time because it will enable various young and experienced scholars from different corners of the world to come forward and share their experiential narratives with each other. Melissa Steyn, Professor and Director, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, South Africa philosophizes that it is important to build up such collaborative projects because they will interrogate and map the different forms of geo-political transformations that are expected to take place in the post-Covid-19 world on the one side and generate possibilities of scholarly polylogues on the other.

About Yonphula Centenary College
Yonphula Centenary College is a new constituent college of the Royal University of Bhutan. The Royal University of Bhutan, founded on June 2, 2003 by a royal decree, is the national university system of Bhutan. It is a decentralized university with ten constituent colleges and two affiliated colleges spread across the kingdom. Situated at Yonphula, Trashigang, Eastern Bhutan, Yonphula Centenary College was established through a Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) executive order issued in February 2017 and was officially inaugurated on 8th October, 2017. The College is located just below the Yonphula Domestic Airport and 9 Kilometers away from Sherubtse College, Kanglung, Trashigang.

The College was established with the Vision to be ‘A GNH-inspired institute of advanced studies for postgraduate programmes in Arts and Sciences.’ Currently, the college is offering the programme of Master of Arts in English. It is the only institution in the kingdom providing postgraduate programmes in Arts and Sciences presently. The college plans to introduce a number of masters’ programmes in Arts and Sciences in the future.

For more information about the institution, please visit www.ycc.edu.bt
For more information about Sherubtse College, please visit https://www.sherubtse.edu.bt/
For more information about the RUB, please visit https://www.rub.edu.bt/index.php/en