Search for Himalayan bonds - Padma Shri teams up with Magsaysay winner for hill recce

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By VIVEK CHHETRI in Darjeeling
  • Published 11.03.07

Darjeeling, March 11: Amid efforts to uphold the unique identity of mountain people across the world, a campaign is on to bring Himalayan highlanders — living in different parts of the mountain ranges from Leh to Arunachal Pradesh — under a common umbrella.

Taking a lead in this endeavour is Shekhar Pathak, recipient of the Padma Shri for the year 2007 and a professor in history at Kumaon University in Nainital.

“The history of the mountain people’s struggle is the same, whether it is the Nepal insurgency, the Gorkhaland movement or the struggle for Uttarakhand,” said Pathak, hinting at the pervading fear of isolation among the hill people.

The historian, who is also the editor of Pahar a magazine that focuses on mountain issues in India, is currently traversing the length and breath of the Himalayas, trying to bring together people living in these parts. The initiative is the first of its kind in the country, the professor said.

“I am currently studying the different societies of mountain people, their culture and their language. In another two to three years, I will be able to come up with a book,” said Pathak. He believes that apart from uniting the people, efforts should also be made to bring about a common platform for the political leadership in these places. “They should also come together to voice demands that are typical to the terrain they inhabit.”

Pathak is currently focusing on creating unity among the hill people so that equitable and sustainable development takes place in the hills. For long, the mountain people have faced alienation from policy makers for want of political intervention, the historian said.

Working closely with Pathak on the venture is Chandi Prasad Bhatt, a firm proponent of the Chipko Andolan. He was also awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1982.

Bhatt, who resides in Uttarakhand, worked towards saving the Himalayan forest cover by organising protests in which people embraced trees (chipko), about to be felled, in a bid to stop deforestation. Like Pathak, he too believes that problems facing the hill people are similar in nature.

“No matter where you are the problems of the mountain people are the same. I hope everyone will work together to overcome the sufferings of the hill people,” said Bhatt.

The work of these two social workers compliments the efforts of highlanders across the world. People from different mountain areas are coming together to form international platforms like Mountain Forum to highlight the unique problems faced by hill people.