Globalisation in the mountainsWe have to rebuild and sustain traditional practices in the face of encroaching global influences
Globalisation is like boarding a flight. Once you board it, you cannot get off until you reach the designated destination. The only difference is that, when we board the flight, we know where we are headed. In the case of globalisation, we do not know the destination, its climate, its features, or its surroundings. This is where the uncertainty and fear of globalisation stem from, and this is why it is an issue of debate. For us—the people of the Himalayas—the journey towards globalisation is replete with uncertainty and vulnerability.
The people in these mountainous regions have now started feeling the adverse effects of globalisation. With the steady disappearance of indigenous seeds, genetic diversity is eroding and food culture is steadily moving towards what is available in Delhi, Paris, and Shanghai. Additionally, traditional dialects and folk languages are being used less and less. As the agents of globalisation infiltrate mountainous areas, the availability of natural resources and practices of sustainability that have prevailed for generations are being sidelined.
The popularity of folk music and traditional literature has been rendered negligible, and families and societies are getting fragmented. Time-honoured games and unique cultural activities that used to be undertaken for leisure are now being replaced by the internet, I-pads, and cell phones. The younger generation have started to neglect the older generation who were once regarded as traditional keepers of wisdom, and wishes and aspirations have started boiling down to consumerism with increasing importance accorded to things like cars and concrete buildings, which were rare in the mountain regions 40 years ago. The negative impact of globalisation is felt at every step, yet we ignore it in the name of emulating the global world and going global.
Harnessing the opportunities created by globalisation is a challenge. One of the major opportunities is communication technology. Perhaps we can use this technology to generate knowledge and conserve traditional wisdom. This is an aspect of globalism that can be used to our advantage, in comparison to more debatable global products such as pizzas, levis jeans, Samsung products and Coke.
In keeping with global trends, youths from these mountainous regions are also fashion conscious. They love to undertake fashion-related adventures, and they adore fashion-related goods and services. They know what is the latest in the world of fashion, whether it be in Harajuku in Japan, or Times Square in USA. Yet one important question presents itself: How do these youth know about the latest fashion trends and how do they adopt it so efficiently and with so much pizazz? What are the channels and instruments that transmit the essence of fashion from such distant places to the rugged hills of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Darjeeling and Pokhara?
Perhaps these same channels and instruments could be used to transfer and disseminate knowledge and education for the academic development of our youth. Could this transmission mechanism be adopted in classrooms and other public spaces? Should this means of diffusion be adopted, we could trigger the more welcome advent of global and academic knowledge as opposed to the current ‘cultural invasion’ that is occurring as a result of globalisation.
The entire Himalayan region is a bio-diversity hotspot. The fact that the world is agog with ‘herbal’, ‘organic’, and ‘ethnic’ products could be used to the advantage of those who live in the mountainous regions if they can process natural resources into herbal medicines. This will enhance and intensify the usage of these resources. This could be done by bringing the traditional knowledge and native wisdom of faith healers such as Dhami, Jhankri, Phendengba, Bonbo of Nepali, Pow, Nejum of Bhutia, and Bumthing in Lepcha communities to an institutionalised forum within the ambit of a well-designed scientific framework. Today all these people are scattered throughout the region. They lack confidence in bringing their traditional knowledge and intellectual resources to the public domain, and also fear pilferage and tampering by agencies for commercial use.
However, this rich intellectual heritage has been frittered away, either by petty agencies and multinational companies, or is badly diminished because of the death of these faith healers. Universities in the mountain areas have to provide critical space to faith healers so that they can propagate their practices at the national and global levels.
Another equally attractive venture would be to link holistic natural heath management with mountain tourism. A place like Hakone in Japan colourfully blends tradition with tourism through the promotion of “onsen” [hot water spring] as a part of holistic natural health. They generate income, make people aware about naturopathy, sell the Japanese traditional system globally, and conserve natural resources prudently. Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and Nepal could do the same thing with traditional, locally available resources and utilise them in a big way. This would bring clean tourism to the mountain areas and transform the local resources into global goods.
The advent of globalisation has made human security a key issue in the mountain areas. The question is what makes human beings secure and, conversely, what makes them feel insecure? Ample work has been done at the global and national level on these issues. Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons (1968), DH Meadows and others’ The Limits to Growth (1972), Brundtland’s Our Common Future (1988), and UNEP’s Caring for Nature (1991) all indicate that environmental security is key to human security.
The erosion of a nations’ environmental foundation has led to a decline in the economy, deterioration of the social fabric and destabilisation of the political structure. This has triggered disorder and insurrection within the nation, or tension and hostilities with other nations. This trend can be documented by the advent of protests against the dam at Tehri in the 1970s and 1980s, Kalabagh dam between provinces like Sindh, North West Frontier Province and Punjab in Pakistan, and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh on the issue of Kaptai dam project. Even the issue of trans-border natural resources management creates conflicts. The Baglihar dam project between India and Pakistan, the Farakka and Tipaimukh issues between India and Bangladesh, the diversion of Brahmaputra in Tibet, and Koshi and Gandak between India and Nepal are emerging examples.
A major impact of globalisation has been on connectivity. Roads, airports, railway lines, modern communication systems and energy supplies are now available in the mountain areas. At the same time, all these have started eating away at the vitals of community-based practices. Traditionally, there was a strong sense of community-living and a distinct commitment to serve the community. However, most of the mountain villages are now increasingly dependent on government aid and intervention—even for petty repairs.
This has been very clearly manifested during various disasters and their management practices in the mountain areas. In the last earthquake in Muzaffarabad, Nepal and Uttarakhand, communities worked better than the governmental delivery systems. When the piped water was disrupted because of these earthquakes, people went back to dharas and springs for water for weeks, thereby reinstating faith in the same old community practices. Therefore, we have to rebuild and sustain traditional practices in the face of globalisation.
Lama teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and is presently a high end expert in the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China (firstname.lastname@example.org)