Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Mountain Livelihoods in Transition: Constraints and Opportunities in Kinnaur, Western Himalaya


This dissertation investigates the transformation of the district of Kinnaur in the state of Himachal Pradesh in the Indian Himalaya. I examine Kinnauri adaptation to political, economic, environmental, and social events of the last seven decades, including state intervention, market integration, and climate change. Broadly, I examine drivers of change in Kinnaur, and the implications of these changes on social, cultural, political, and environmental dynamics of the district. Based on findings from 11 months of ethnographic field work, I argue that Kinnaur’s transformation and current economic prosperity have been chiefly induced by outside forces, creating a temporary landscape of opportunity.

State-led interventions including land reform and a push to supplement subsistence agriculture with commercial horticulture initiated a significant agrarian transition beginning with India’s Independence. I provide detailed examination of the Nautor Land Rules of 1968 and the 1972 Himachel Pradesh Ceiling of Land Holding Act, and their repercussion on land allocation to landless Kinnauris. My findings suggest that despite the initial inequitable allocation of land under these reforms, 40 years after they were enacted, landless Kinnauris have predominantly become landowners. I illustrate how other socio-economic measures, including the construction of National Highway 22 through Kinnaur, access to wage labor, provision of government jobs and government promotion of commercial apple production, all converged to change the socio-economic condition of Kinnauris and better enable them to take advantage of state land programs.

Looking at climate change and its consequences on Kinnaur, I provide a contextualized examination of biophysical processes in conjunction with Kinnauri social dynamics and broader state structures of power and political economy. My research adds a new dimension to the field by showing how climate change may provide a temporary landscape of opportunity for marginalized people. I illustrate how climate change is shifting land use practices and changing patterns of agricultural production. Formerly non-arable land in the high altitude zone is being placed under apple production and this newly productive land is contributing to growing prosperity. Simultaneously, I examine the limitations of this prosperity and reasons to be concerned that it is only temporary. Kinnauri livelihood diversity has decreased with growing dependence on one cash crop, and Kinnaur is therefore highly vulnerable to fluctuating markets and weather conditions. I suggest that livelihood diversification may provide important protection for Kinnauri prosperity.

In focusing on Kinnaur’s social dimensions and livelihood sustainability, I argue that the integration and expansion of the market economy is linked to changing social structures in Kinnaur. I examine the evolving human-environment dynamics by discussing the evolution of the traditional Kinnauri practice of fraternal polyandry, social networks of exchange and reciprocity, and the chilgoza pine nut, a traditionally important common pool resource in Kinnaur.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View