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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Inaugural Address of His Excellency Shri. Balmiki Prasad Singh, Governor of Sikkim on the occasion of 10th International Conference on Globalization and Cultural Practices In Mountain Areas:Dynamics, Dimensions and Implications

Inaugural Address of His Excellency Shri. Balmiki Prasad Singh, Governor of Sikkim on the occasion of 10th International Conference on Globalization and Cultural Practices In Mountain Areas:Dynamics, Dimensions and Implications organised by Sikkim University on 13th December, 2011.

Thank you, Mr. Vice Chancellor for inviting me to inaugurate this International meet on the subject of Globalization and Cultural Practices in Mountain Areas:  Dynamics, Dimensions and Implications. I feel honoured for this is an area which is both relevant and important to our society, economy, polity and culture. I am also happy that this conclave is taking place in Gangtok – a familiar hill centre on the global map.

Broadly speaking, ‘globalization’ denotes integration of economies and societies through cross border flows of information, ideas, technologies, goods, services, capital, finance and people. This integration is all pervasive. A special focus on mountain regions is quite justified as hills cover 22 per cent of global land surface and 12 per cent of the world population. These areas provide fresh water to half of the world’s population. But the primary concern arises from the fact that poverty is wide-spread and deep seated in the mountains and there are estimates to indicate that nearly 80 per cent people are living below the poverty line in these areas.

Globalization is not new to us. History reveals that a kind of globalization began with the rise of trade links between Sumer and the Indus Valley Civilization; whether they were the Buddhist monks from the Indian subcontinent or the Christian priests proselytising in far-off lands, they were all practicing globalization apart from their religion. The exploration of new lands and trade routes by Jewish, Arabs, Indian and later by the Europeans resulted in a globalization of agriculture, trade, knowledge and technology as well as governance.

Globalization has taken the centre stage in recent years primarily with the rise of global communications, which make people feel that connections across the world are more strong and steady; and are becoming more democratic and inclusive. Today people have become more familiar with global problems, like climate change, economic interdependencies, processes of economic restructuring, job prospects and career modelling, availability of goods, services and technology in distant lands; as well as global political happenings. At the same time, the all-pervasive phenomena of globalization provide opportunities for new experiences, newer forms of identities that emerge and get identified in the process, and the possibility for construction of greater commonality between divergent groups.

The Internet technology, websites, blogs, mobile telephone and social networks facilitate individuals and groups to share information and depending upon their capabilities and requirements to use them in a productive and profitable manner.

Sikkim is not new to this phenomenon. As a part of the legendary Silk Route, the hills, valleys and passes of Sikkim were a part of the process of trade and ideas. Sikkim’s geographical location of being in the neighbourhood of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and North Bengal has special significance in so far as it relates to peoples’ response to modern day challenges. Like most of the mountainous regions, Sikkimese culture and ethos have flourished in terms of its geography and biodiversity, religion and belief system, which the indigenous people have developed over the centuries. In a globalizing world, the mainstream development paradigm and practices have critical impact on the cultural practices of the mountainous areas. Sikkim is no exception.

With the advent of newer economic opportunities, the process of migration of population from rural to urban, from one state to another and from one country to the other has been intensified. At the same time, the process of reverse migration from mainland to rural areas bring newer technology, skills, knowledge as well as work force required to affect all round development. The migration from hills to outside as well as from mainland to hills has made an impact on the demographic profile of these areas. However, this will differ from area to area and impact of such migration on local culture needs to be studied though without emotions.

India accounts for 16.7 percent of world’s population whereas it has only 2.0 percent of world’s land area. In a capital-scarce economy like ours, efficient utilization of our natural resources and human capacities become even more critical.

Among developing countries, India stands to gain significantly from globalization. At the same time, we must identify and strengthen our comparative advantages. It is this approach which will enable us to meet the challenges of globalization and rising aspirations of our people.

Globalization has come as a major boost to the aspirational society in Sikkim.  Latest electronic gadgets, fashionable clothes along with all other assortments of modern comfort are all on offer in Sikkim. However, the expectations raised by this global phenomenon have not been delivered fully. Poor road network and unsatisfactory connectivity are some of the major constraints. Poor connectivity, in fact, is endemic to all the mountain areas; the level playing field required by globalization cannot be achieved until this is remedied. Lack of connectivity impedes growth. It also isolates the people, cutting them off from the rest of the nation.

And yet globalization and modernization have made negative impact on Sikkimese society. I am worried by the increase in suicide cases in Sikkim. In 2010, 280 suicides were recorded in the State, with an astounding 45.9 suicides per lakh. The number of drug addicts too is on the rise. Is there link between rising materialism in society and weakening of family ties? Are these contributing to suicides and drug addiction?

Globalization- with its cycle of production and consumption- leads to ever increasing demand for energy. The mountainous areas, endowed with high altitude riverine system, are looked upon to fulfill this demand. Sikkim has the potential to produce 8000 megawatt of power. In achieving this, we should make judicious choices keeping in view concerns of ecology and culture.

The response of the locals has been mixed. Many welcome the projects since they bring with them the promise of employment; others have expressed concerns over unchecked influx and possible devastation of the fragile mountain ecosystem due to massive construction that such projects entail.

The 18th September earthquake in Sikkim has brought to the fore the debate between the traditional and the modern. The damages caused by the earthquake was widespread and even the traditional houses of the people were not spared. The use of modern technology- made more accessible by globalization- can make houses earthquake resistant.  Again, we look upon globalization to make the technology affordable to all.

In short, Sikkim should not remain a silent bystander as the world transforms itself. And that poses formidable challenge to this peaceful and culture-rich society as to how to retain its age-old identity and way of life. 

Development in mountain regions is marred by geographical constraints. Keeping this in mind, it is highly imperative that instead of blanket policies we evolve more imaginative strategies to tackle the developmental challenges as well as to suit the needs of mountain people. 

Policies for fragile mountain environments require a holistic approach that adequately addresses the economic, social and environmental concerns. The stress should be on sustainable development with a long-term vision.

The rural-urban migration could lead to increased pressure on the limited environmental resources of the urban areas. It is important that we keep in the mind the carrying capacity of every urban hotspot in hilly areas and ensure that increased influx does not exceed this crucial capacity.

Due to enforced geographical isolation, the mountain people usually find themselves marginalised from mainstream policy making. This is reflected in the severe dearth of mountain specific policies. It is important to have adequate representation of voices from the hills in policy framing for only this can ensure accommodation of concerns of the mountain people.

The capacities of government staff and local stakeholders need to be strengthened through trainings to enable effective implementation of development programmes.

At the transnational level, mountains often act as natural borders. Mountain areas in one country can also be major sources of water for another country further downstream. Regional policies and institutional frameworks, including conventions, are needed to address the inter-linkages effectively and equitably.

I do want the people in the mountainous regions to take full advantage of opportunities that come their way as a result of globalization and modernization, particularly emanating from information and communications technology (ICT) revolution. In short, I am not one of those who would like to keep the hill people as “museum pieces of anthropology”. The hill people themselves must strive to integrate with the wider mainland society and compete in the globalized world. But I am against directionless change; for change which is a product of aping the west or the advanced parts of the world will negate the values of vibrant hill culture which has survived for thousands of years and have imparted to hill people distinct personality and ways of living.

I am all in favour of participatory development. I believe that when people face challenges to their ecosystem in the wake of globalization and modernization, they should devise their own responses and solutions. The culture of hill people has enough repository of knowledge to provide criteria which would enable them to select the course of action between alternative solutions. This essential role of hill culture would be impaired if the people are denied opportunities to articulate their responses to development challenges. The planner should understand that if the criteria used are the ones which are external to the culture of hill people then it would tantamount to following patterns of others and not growing in terms of their own genius. In order to help them towards development they must be able to tap their knowledge.

Internet holds key to progress. After a decade of relatively slow growth in Internet use in the 90s in India due to various factors including poor infrastructure and administrative inefficiencies, the number of Internet users in the country is skyrocketing. This has been feasible thanks to new investment in the sector and a growing number of middle-class consumers who can afford access. The number of Indian Internet users is expected to nearly triple in the next three years, from 80 million today to 230 million in 2015. The number of broadband users, critical to the success of Indian e-commerce, is also forecast to rise over the same period, from 1.7% to 12.5% of the population.

I would like the people of the hill regions to participate in this Internet communication revolution in a big way. I call it, in fact, a civilizational encounter of enormous significance that is going to determine the future of progress not only of the hill regions but also of India as a whole.

Let me advise scholars and researchers that during the course of their visits to the hill region for research I implore them to be guided by a sense of humility. For the opinion leaders in the hill societies are not keen to offer their ideas to visitors unless they show tremendous patience. Furthermore, one must not get appalled by poverty and sanitation problems in these areas. One must understand that Lachen and Cherrapunji will not offer either wealth or cleanliness of Paris or Stockholm. Humility and compassion are clues towards finding new ideas and understanding the hill people.

Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru made enormous contribution both in terms of ideas and formulation of public policy and programmes to advancement of hill people. In my essay entitled Nehru’s Tribal Philosophy that finds a place in Jawaharlal Nehru Centenary Volume, 1989, I write : it is difficult to sum up Nehru’s tribal philosophy and his contribution to tribal culture and progress, multifaceted as they are. But it can be safely asserted that it is impossible for the rights of the tribals to be snatched away in India. The constitutional provisions and institutions of democracy will prevent that. Equally important is the fact that ordinary people in tribal areas still remember and refer to Nehru’s philosophy of allowing them to develop along the lines of their genius. Verrier Elwin, Nehru’s friend and a person dedicated to the cause of the tribals, perhaps expressed Nehru’s contribution to the tribal philosophy meaningfully when he wrote: into our thinking about the tribes he has brought science, humanity and respect; and I liked the man who once remarked to me that ‘the whole of the Prime Minister’s tribal policy can be summed up in one word – humility!”

In a globalized world, the youth are optimistic about doing better in this world here and now. They are no longer believers in fate nor do they entertain the belief in some future better world, either on earth or in heaven. Globalization has put meritocracy above nationality, religion or region as a key for success. Let us take full advantage of globalization and let us at the same time not sacrifice our core value systems that India has provided to her children over the millennia: a simple living, family ties, tolerance for other’s point of view, spiritual quest and respect for ecology.

I trust the learned participants of this Conference would find the deliberations constructive and that it could be used by the policy makers, students and concerned citizens.

I inaugurate the Conference.

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