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Mona Chettri

Dr, Postdoc

Mona Chettri

I was awarded my PhD in 2014 from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. My PhD focussed on ethnic politics in the eastern Himalayan borderland and built upon my Masters in Development Studies from the University of New South Wales, Australia (with Distinction). After being awarded my PhD, I worked as Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2015-2016) at Wageningen University, Netherlands for the project 'Hydropower development in the context of climate change' funded by Department for International Development (DFID) and Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. As a post-doctoral research fellow, I co-led the component on ‘How hydro-power re-distributes water, energy and risks’ and engaged in ethnographic research on the political economy of development and climate-change in the eastern Himalaya.

My current research ‘The making of de-facto Special Economic Zone: Liberalizing the eastern Himalayan Borderland’ is a part of the research project ‘The Rise of Special Economic Zones in Asian Borderlands- RisezAsia’ led by Associate Professor Michael Eilenberg. My research focuses on the liberalisation and the creation of de-facto Special Economic Zones in the eastern Himalayan borderland with a special focus on the Indian federal state of Sikkim, a highly strategic borderland (India-China, India-Nepal, India-Bhutan). Focussing on the constellation of hydro-power projects and pharmaceutical companies in Sikkim, the project will illustrate the transformation of frontiers to economic corridors and de-facto SEZ. The project will analyse the dialectical relationship between state and private finance that facilitates the creation, proliferation and success of specific economic ‘constellations’ which connect the borderland to the global economy. The project will also explore the dynamics of land-grabbing which has been triggered by liberalization from ‘above’ by the state (on behalf of private capital) and from ‘below’ in response to these ruptures by communities ushering a new assemblage of grassroots politics around land that is qualitatively different to the politics of the past. 

My research is interdisciplinary, focussing primarily on different forms and impacts (social, spatial, economic, environmental) of development in South Asia but spans across anthropology, politics and geography and makes a significant contribution in the fields of Himalayan studies, borderland research and development.

I have recently had a sole-authored research monograph published by Amsterdam University Press as part of their Asian Borderlands book series. The book, ‘Constructing Democracy: Ethnicity and Democracy in the eastern Himalayan Borderland, will also be available through open-access globally and through University of Chicago Press in the USA.

Constructing Democracy: Ethnicity and Democracy in the eastern Himalayan Borderaland (Amsterdam University Press, 2017).

By focussing on the Nepali ethnic groups living on the borderlands of Sikkim, Darjeeling, and east Nepal, Constructing Democracy: Ethnicity and Democracy in the eastern Himalayan Borderland analyses the growth, success, and proliferation of ethnic politics on the peripheries of modern South Asia. Based on extensive historical and ethnographic research, the book critically examines the relationship between culture and politics in a geographical space of ethnic diversity and political contention. The book explores the emergence of new modes of political representation, cultural activism, and everyday politics in regional South Asia. Constructing Democracy offers new perspectives on political dynamics and state formation across the eastern Himalaya.

Chettri makes an important contribution to our understandings of the role that ethnicity plays in producing democracy in practice. By pairing rich comparative ethnographic work in eastern Nepal, Sikkim, and the Darjeeling district of West Bengal with thoughtful historical and political analysis, Chettri shows how ethnicity intersects powerfully with subnational, national, and transnational politics and structures of governance. A fascinating read that will be of interest to scholars and students of the Himalaya and beyond.

Sara Shneiderman, Assistant Professor in Anthropology and the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia (UBC)

Ethnicity and Democracy in the Eastern Himalayan Borderland offers unique insights into the cultural implications of ethnic politics in the eastern Himalayan borderland. Chettri’s ethnographic and historical analysis shows how struggles over ethnicity are integral part of regional processes of ‘vernacularisation of democracy’. The result is a must-read for anyone interested in the emerging field of the anthropology of democracy. − Lucia Michelutti, Reader (Associate Professor) in Anthropology (University College London)


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