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[2015/01] Social grouping, ethnicity and state in Sikkim

Social grouping, ethnicity and state in Sikkim. Constructions of social groups and interethnic relationships in a Himalayan State of India.

Projektleitung: Guntram Hazod
ProjektmitarbeiterInnen: Mélanie Vandenhelsken
Projektlaufzeit: 01.02.2010 - 31.01.2015
Kooperation: Centre for Human Sciences, New-Delhi; Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, Sikkim, India
Finanzierung: FWF (Projekt P21886-G17)

The Indian State of Sikkim presents a significant ethnic diversity: people organised in Indo-Nepalese castes cohabit with so-called “tribes” (the autochthonous Lepcha and Limbu as well as Rai, Gurung, etc. and a group of Tibetan culture and language, the Bhotia). As everywhere in India, these populations are organised in administrative categories (Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, etc.) meant to be “compensatory discrimination.” This system has the paradox of seeking to resolve economic problems by characterizing these groups according to cultural criteria. It consequently maintains a representation of social divisions and inequalities in terms of ethnic belongingness and differentiation (i.e. ethnicity) as well as ancient ethnic tensions. It moreover triggers a “process of tribalisation” in which ethnic groups tend to identify themselves to “tribes” – as it is understood in India – in order to be included in the advantageous administrative categories. This situation raises questions regarding the relations between the State and the ethnic groups in Sikkim. This research programme intends to answer the following questions: do the ethnic solidarities in Sikkim oppose or accompany the building of a centralized State, what are the modalities of the building of ethnic solidarities and what role does the State play in this process? We propose to examine these questions by a crossed analysis of state policies towards the ethnic groups (past and present) and of the construction of collective identities in Sikkim based on a study of various dimensions of belongingness (households, clans, castes, etc.) – including local history of these social units –, of categories of otherness, inter-ethnic relations (mainly over labour and rituals) in several rural areas of Sikkim, and movements of identity affirmation. The hypothesis and expected result is that everyday relations between ethnic groups draw boundaries between them, which cut across categories implemented by the administration (mainly “tribe” and “caste”) while these categories are prevalent in the administrative and political organisation and in ethnic movements of identity affirmation. Such study comparing “State built ethnicity” with local histories and organisations, and combing “instrumentalist” and “constructionist” theoretical approaches will lead to a new understanding of ethnicity and inter-ethnic relations in Sikkim.