Between Homelessness and Homecoming: Tibetan Nationalism and Citizenship in Twentieth Century India

Spring 2017 Grant Recipient

Graduate Student

Swati Chawla (History) My work approaches Tibetan migration to India in the second half of the twentieth century through the longer history of lay and monastic movement in the region to ask new questions of nationalism and bureaucratic regimes of citizenship in South Asia, and how they interacted with itinerant populations such as monastics, beggars, and performers. The proposed research underscores the bureaucratic suspicion of borderland populations who were customarily on the move (such as monastics) in the decades immediately after Indian Independence (1947). The Indian Home Ministry's handling of their applications shows a profound mistrust and incomprehension of the routineness of itinerancy within the Tibetan Buddhist monastic tradition. I attempt to show how the imagination of a Tibetan cultural region (comprising large parts of northern and eastern India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet) for these monks and nuns was at odds with the quickly tightening borders of these nation-states, and to bring out the difficulties of traversing one of the most challenging escape routes in the world. I will also show how these applicants were retracing older routes of migration established through inter-marriage, religious patronage and trade, that predated the emergence of India as a sovereign state and the establishment of the People's Republic of China (1949). Secondly, my work excavates histories of co-operation and communal construction and management of shared resources across the Himalayas, such as grazing pastures, animals, water bodies, monastic and legal institutions. I aim to show the violence—both physical and epistemic—inherent in prohibitions on free exchange through erecting national borders, and enacting citizenship laws that aim to divide and exclude communities who had been tied together in organic co-dependent networks.