In this talk I examine how the Indian State’s shift towards a more extraction-centered policy in its Eastern Himalayan borderlands is reconfiguring center-periphery and state-subject relations. Drawing on interviews with Lepcha residents of Dzongu in North Sikkim and state geologists and disaster management officials, my analysis draws on their direct experience with disasters and hydropower developers and infrastructure. Official hydropower policies see disasters as a natural outcome of the Himalayan region’s “remote” “inaccessible” and “inhospitable terrain”, allowing developers to evade culpability by shifting blame on to the earth itself. In placing ‘disastrous’ as a prefix to hydropower, I follow my interlocutors who unequivocally implicate state and private developers in producing disaster conditions. Despite key differences in their relation to state power both Dzongu Lepchas and Sikkimese technocrats, forward a place-based understanding of precarity, differential vulnerability, and uneven regional development. Centering their critiques, I argue that the entry of hydropower development in the Eastern Himalayas, conceptualized by colonial authorities as India’s “Mongolian Fringe”, requires a closer attention to the entanglements of frontier-making and racialization in India. More broadly, I demonstrate how hydropower development and Indigenous resistance to it offers a productive entry into decolonial theorizing in the Indian context.
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This event is part of the Lecture Series: “Imagining the Environment: Climate Change, Rivers and Political Ecology in India”, see more here