Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Himalayan Pathways: Aspirations and the Geopolitics of Road Building in Ladakh, India

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Wilson A, Mezzanine Level

Since Partition, the politics of state building in the Himalayan frontier of India has been largely driven by geopolitical concerns. In particular, the taming of the high mountains through road infrastructure has been key for the state to assert its sovereignty and has shaped development in the historically remote regions of Ladakh and Zanskar. Through the prism of mobility and aspiration, this paper examines the unintended impacts of the politics of state building on social identities and the emergence of publics in the Indian Himalayan regions of Ladakh and Zanskar. This is particularly relevant in the current political moment as China's BRI projects cross the Tibetan Plateau and pass through disputed territories of Kashmir. By tracing the temporal rhythm of the construction of the Zanskar Highway, a 292 km long trans-Himalayan road that has been under construction since the 1970s, I show how development in this area has proceeded unevenly, leaving parts of the borderland with little strategic interests marginalized. The contentious character of the road, which is meant to ensure year round transportation in and out of Zanskar, is multifaceted and its slow progress has generated much dissatisfaction among local communities. In order to address this issue, Zanskarpas have used different tactics: first they have foregrounded the military argument in order to appeal the state to invest in the completion of the road, by proposing to use the region as a military depot, second they have taken control of the building of the road through local grass-root initiatives. 

Karine Gagne

University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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