Tagged as fragile, remote and marginal, these three aspects have featured prominently in discussions and deliberations concerning development in the mountains in our part of the world. Retired but active academician N S Jodha, a former senior staff with the Kathmandu-based Integrated Center for International Mountain Development, has been credited for using these three features to define, what in popular parlance is called, ‘the mountain perspective’.
Discussion link: http://bit.ly/VBFuby
Ever since it was proposed over two decades ago, ‘the mountain perspective’ has been the leitmotif of most research/development on mountain issues in the region. One of the reasons for it (the mountain perspective) not to be contested had to do with the three features being ‘obvious’ in the mountain context. Since replacing these `three words’ by searching from the thesaurus would have not added any spice, the mountain fraternity did not see any reason in dabbling with it.
As a consequence, ‘the mountain perspective’ has hung around and for good reasons too! Without doubt, it has given a sense of purpose and legitimacy to those working for and on mountain issues at the grassroot, on the tree trunk and atop canopy. The guiding mantras, fragility, marginality and remoteness, have helped generate widespread empathy for those engaged in ‘development’ of the mountain communities. Though not directly credited, ‘the mountain perspective’ has been effective in providing financial back-stopping too.
One would have imagined that with such a clear perspective on the mountains on offer, the ecology of the region and the economics of its people should have been better. Conversely, however, assessments made in the recent past indicate that fragility and marginality in the mountains have only worsened. Despite the issue of remoteness having been addressed through communication penetration, both software and hardware, the mountains remain a region of gross uncertainty.
If the mountain perspective was so well orchestrated, what might have gone wrong in putting the driving principles emanating from it into practice? Contrary to common belief, ‘the mountain perspective’ has been seriously flawed in the first place. Pitched around the physio-graphic features of the mountains, the narrative had hinged itself on the inherent debility of the region. Could anything built on a weak foundation end up being robust and durable?
At another level, ‘the mountain perspective’ could only provide a constricted view on the mountains. Far from providing an open platform, the mountain perspective held a priori idea on the region. Neither could researchers view the mountains any different from what they were made to understand nor could policymakers stretch their imagination beyond ‘the mountain perspective’. The idea of ‘mountains‘ had got caged within the pre-determined boundaries!
That mountains are nature’s repository of the best and the beautiful; that its treacherous slopes have riches to sustain humanity for several millennia; and that its peaks are global store houses of life-saving liquid has been subsumed within the over-hyped discourse on debility of the region. The political economy of development unleashed on account of unquestioned mountain perspective led to perpetuation of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ syndrome. No wonder, most mountain people continue to consider themselves grossly under-developed.
Built upon the locational inadequacies, ‘the mountain perspective’ had literally ignored the spiritual and cultural threads crisscrossing the peaks and the valleys. That the communities ‘belonged’ to the mountains and sought to create a living relationship with them was clearly ignored in favor of the shortcomings that got highlighted in development discourses. The self-esteem of mountain people got a severe beating and continues to be so.
If foregoing narration is any indication, it is time ‘the mountain perspective‘ is rewritten because it has long been ‘irrelevant‘. The self-depreciating features `fragile, remote and marginal‘ need to give way to positive expressions viz., rich, robust and exquisite. Had the mountain perspective been crafted around such positive expressions, the approach to development would have definitely been different. It would have allowed people in the mountains to play to their strengths and set the agenda for their own ‘development‘.
Please go at discussion thread at: http://bit.ly/VBFuby
Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’s Expert Speak Column during June 2012, which is being re-posted for further discourse. Dr. Sharma is a development analyst based in New Delhi, India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya team.
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