Losing a Home, Finding a Nation: The Curious History of Hurling Village in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Border making in the Himalayas by colonial and post-colonial nation-states have been a fraught affair leaving behind it broken communities, destroyed livelihoods and often communal and geo-political conflagrations.
Our paper looks at an outlier to this general case, studying the village of Hurling in the Spiti division of Himachal Pradesh to understand how and why a small rural community managed to deal with dislocation and social churn without significant social, cultural, or even political, injury.
Hurling is a new habitation located outside of the traditional area of Spiti, on the modern road which connects it to Kinnaur. It is composed of 36 households, most of which were uprooted in the aftermath of the 1962 India – China war from border village of Kaurik. Traditional agricultural lands, grazing spots, kin and affinal relationships, as well as monastic links extended into Chinese Tibet. After 1962, Kaurik’s residents were shifted to Hurling, about 25 km away. The people of Kaurik/Hurling lost not just access to their lands and families on the Chinese side, but also contact with their monastery.
Our study of Hurling is based on interviewing 12 households over two visits in 2019, and part of our larger study of Spiti for an ICSSR project. We find that the villagers drew on government schemes, linked up with a growing market for commercial crops, and engaged with both local and trans-local cultural influences to weld themselves a new identity. Surprisingly, each of these three encounters – with post-colonial governmentality, with a liberalising market, with religious and national identities – have been successful in terms of outcomes for the villagers of Hurling. Today it is a prosperous village looking to seal its place within Spiti’s political-social landscape with a new monastery.
We study how new land was brought under cultivation through nautor allocations, how government’s agricultural and horticulture extension was used to build a cash-crop economy, and how a new cultural space was carved out by leveraging the parallel yet distinct processes of Indian nation-making and the circuits of Tibetan religious modernisation. The recreation of the village was literally a creative process of reimagining themselves through new forms of family, private property and nation-state identities. Hurling shows in sharp relief the larger, slower, processes at work in Spiti, provides a contrast to the trajectory of similar processes in India’s other Himalayan borderlands. What was it that allowed a displaced community, in a productively challenged agro-climatic zone from a historically marginalised region within the Western Himalayas to integrate thus into the mainstreams of culture, nation, and market? We do not aim to provide definite answers but attempt to delineate the direction of the possible answers. We hope our research will add to the understanding of how the new borders in the Himalayas are being imagined and engaged with, and possible directions these open up.