The topic is now not solely about countering the opposite past the mountain — China
Let’s situate the examine of Tibet outdoors the slim silo of Sino-Indian relations and inside the Himalaya. It’d train us a lot that we don’t find out about India.
As college students of Tibet and the Himalaya, we welcome the Indian Military’s latest proposal for its officers to review Tibetology. A media report on January 28 stated that officers would examine “Tibetan historical past, tradition, and language on each side of the Line of Precise Management” with a view to “counter Chinese language affect and propaganda”.
The Indian Military is true to stress the significance of constructing experience on Tibet to know the historical past and modern challenges in India’s relationship with China. Certainly, India-China relations can’t be approached by means of a strictly bilateral prism that excludes Tibet and the Himalaya.
Equally, Tibetology can’t be confined inside the bounds of state pursuits and territorial conflicts on both facet of the Tibetan plateau. It encompasses the multi- and inter-disciplinary examine of the broader Tibetan cultural area, and is most productively located with and inside the Himalaya.
In line with the Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the Worldwide Affiliation for Tibetan Research (2003), the area consists of not simply U-Tsang (present-day Tibet Autonomous Area), Amdo, and Kham, however giant areas within the Himalaya, together with components of Nepal and Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, and Tawang. We imagine that approaching the area by means of these trans-Himalayan connections, versus nation-state silos, can train us not nearly Sino-Indian relations but additionally about giant components of India.
As with different components of the colonised world, the manufacturing and codification of data about Tibet served European imperial pursuits. Britain recognised the significance of Sikkim and Bhutan in securing its pursuits in Tibet, and its Political Officer in Sikkim cultivated shut relations with aristocratic households within the area. Concurrently, from Warren Hastings within the 1770s to Francis Younghusband in 1903-04, a military of cartographers, mountaineers, missionaries, linguists, and botanists labored to provide definitive information about Tibet for British India.
On the one hand, works of fiction similar to James Hilton’s Misplaced Horizon (1933) painted a legendary picture of Tibet as Shangri-la — a utopian society untouched by modernity; the repository of a putative true Buddhism. On the opposite, imperial realpolitik wrestled with demarcating the territorial boundaries of British India and its protectorates, most notably by means of the McMahon Line (1914). These approaches formed preliminary tutorial engagements with Tibet — developments which persist to today.
Free India, Tibetan research
Impartial India recognised the financial and cultural ties that traversed the Himalayas and the function of Buddhism because the connecting tissue. This knowledgeable the institution-building efforts of the federal government within the Fifties. Devoted to Tibetan and Buddhist research, the Central Institute for Buddhist Research and the Central Institute of Greater Tibetan Research have been established in Leh and Sarnath, Varanasi, respectively, as was the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology within the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim, which was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958. The Institutes in Sarnath and Gangtok are on the Indian Military’s record of locations the place officers can examine Tibetology.
These efforts however, research on Tibet by Indian teachers have largely mirrored India’s geopolitical anxieties, which have been exacerbated after the Sino-Indian struggle in 1962. Some exceptions similar to Girija Saklani and T.C. Palakshappa apart, the vast majority of Indian scholarship on Tibet has continued to concentrate on the function of Tibet within the bilateral relationship between India and China, or on Buddhism.
By understanding Tibet as a buffer zone in India-China relations, the previous usually results in an ahistorical narrative of India and Tibet as “pure allies”, eschewing the historical past of complicated political engagements between successive administrations in Lhasa and India over points starting from frontiers to customary rights of grazing and commerce. It doesn’t account for the centrality of Tibet in India’s relationship with Bhutan and Sikkim (earlier than 1975).
Equally, with respect to Buddhism, the guru-chela narrative of India because the birthplace of Buddhism and Tibet because the recipient of this information dominates, as does the thought of Buddhism as a by-product of Hinduism. This usually excludes a view of Tibetan Buddhism as a residing and evolving entity that thrives in giant components of the Himalayan area. It additionally finally ends up equating Tibet with a reified Tibetan Buddhism devoid of sectarian complexity, and erasing Tibet’s non-Buddhist religions.
A Himalayan dwelling
Most tragically, in defining Tibetology so narrowly, we miss a chance to know modern India. The postcolonial Indian state was not solid within the centres of Delhi and Calcutta alone. Nor have been its mountains and plains built-in right into a single nation-state uniformly. The Himalaya is not only an insurmountable “pure barrier” — a sentry as we sing in sare jahaan se achcha — that separates India from its neighbours. It’s dwelling to interconnected but various ecologies, societies, and polities that criss-cross many modern borders.
What’s extra, there isn’t a location extra advantageous for learning Tibet and the Himalaya. Indian establishments — each nationwide and state archives, in addition to non-public collections in libraries — home the richest supplies for this work. India hosts the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetan refugee settlements and a plethora of Tibetan institutes. Linguistic and subject experience abound, as do alternatives for studying the language for the uninitiated.
Foregrounding the interconnections amongst Tibet and the Himalayan areas and their relationship with the Indian centre gives helpful views into processes of state-making and the politics of nation-building. As latest environmental, social, and geopolitical crises present, these proceed to stay dwell considerations.
Thus, in broadening the mandate for Tibetology, we write extra of India into the story. It’s now not solely about countering the opposite past the mountain.
Swati Chawla is a historian of the Himalaya and an assistant professor at O.P. Jindal World College. Madhura Balasubramaniam is an impartial researcher learning Tibetan rehabilitation in India