Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Diaspora Within: Himalayan Youth, Education-Driven Migration, and Future Aspirations in India

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Diaspora Within: Himalayan Youth, Education-Driven Migration, and Future Aspirations in India

Article excerpt

Abstract. Economic change has driven parents across the Indian Himalayan Region to send their children to major Indian cities for higher education. Himalayan students' urban experience and understanding of the nation is profoundly shaped by the movement between the Himalayan context and the foreign experience of Indian city life. We draw on interviews with students to discuss their experiences in the sometimes liberating and sometimes hostile cities of India. In their perceived cultural and racialized difference, we argue, Himalayan students form a diaspora within their own nation, and we suggest that attention to their micropractices of belonging and movement between home and city is critical to understanding India as a nation-state. Here, we suggest that education-driven migration to urban centers results in challenging spaces of encounter, and that minority students cope with these encounters both by forging diasporic ties with those from their homeland and other marginalized Himalayan students, and by building a cosmopolitan sensibility that reaches beyond India's borders. Our research is based primarily on a set of twenty interviews conducted in 2011 in Delhi, Sikkim, and Leh, Ladakh, but is informed by our ongoing work on the topic, and on our previous and continuing research on family politics in Ladakh and in Sikkim on youth politics and development.

Keywords: youth, education, India, diaspora, cosmopolitanism, Himalaya

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In the North Indian city of Jammu, three young women get off the bus, sweating in the July heat and trying to remember the directions they have been given. Their appearance and dress--colorful skinny jeans, layered straight hair, and bright running shoes--sets them apart from the residents who hurry past. The humidity, crowds, and unfamiliarity quickly overwhelm them. Just nineteen, Rigzin Dolma, Spalzes, and Kunzes (1) have traveled two days over mountain passes from Jammu and Kashmir State's high-altitude Ladakh region, eating Maggi noodles and sarnosas at roadside stands. Worn, hand-me-down duffle bags containing a few changes of clothes and some dried apricots are their only luggage and belie their owners' carefully crafted stylish appearance. The friends have been sent here for higher education--with hopes that this will translate to security and happiness. Their parents are village farmers who attended only a few years of school. Meanwhile a (somewhat) similar story unfolds in Delhi. Tashi Bhutia and two of her friends disembark from their flights from Bagdogra, West Bengal to the Indira Gandhi Delhi Airport. Rolling their heavy suitcases full of homemade pickles, dried meat, and fashionable clothes from the famous Hong Kong market in Siliguri, they deliberate on the appropriate taxi fare to their hostel. Exiting the airport's air-conditioned confines, they brace their bodies for the blistering heat and brush up on their Hindi before jumping headlong into a heated bargaining match with the taxi drivers. The children of middle-class, English-educated government servants in Sikkim, a small Eastern Himalayan state, they have been accepted to Delhi University, one of the most prestigious universities in India. But everyday life was unlike anything they had experienced, marked by difficult interactions with shopkeepers and auto rickshaw drivers, unbearable summer heat, and sexual harassment.

Economic change has driven parents across India's remote mountain regions to send their children to cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, and Jammu for higher education. Some parents attended university; for others, this is their family's first step into higher education. These students' experiences in the cities are moderated by class, circumstances, and aspirations but are also profoundly shaped by the movement between their home context, ethnic and cultural background, and the foreign experience of Indian city life. Many students have facial features that Indians from the plains associate with East Asia, Nepal, or Tibet. …

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