The Border Came Between Us: Securing Development, Surveillance and Securitization, and Refugee Memory and Placemaking in Nepal

The Border Came Between Us: Securing Development, Surveillance and Securitization, and Refugee Memory and Placemaking in Nepal
The dissertation focuses on Chinese economic development and geopolitical influence in Nepal, with particular emphasis on how increased Chinese influence disrupts everyday lives of Tibetan refugees. While Nepali state administrators see the need to move away from Indian dominance in the Nepali economy and trade, this occurs in tandem with seeking and receiving economic development from China. I argue that in sustaining Nepal’s interests in securing Chinese development, the Nepali state agrees to secure Tibetan refugees by following the One China Policy, among other geopolitical expectations including greater surveillance and policing of exiled Tibetans in Nepal. In doing so, I discuss how Tibetans, and increasingly Himalayan Indigenous peoples, are brought into the security apparatus based on ethnic and caste hierarchies that are foundational to the discursive construction of the Nepali nation based on Hindu cosmologies and hierarchies that privilege Bahun-Chhetri populations while politically marginalizing Indigenous peoples.

Through ethnographic fieldwork, I study how sovereignty is felt in the everyday. Tibetans in Nepal experience extensive surveillance and rigid security measures that condition Tibetan subjectivities through restrictions on religious festivities and commemorations of Tibetan political events. The Nepali state uses visual markers to identify and categorize the seemingly illegible forms of Tibetan-ness into neatly understandable and legible categories through forms of surveillance and policing. Tibetan refugees make do in these securitized and surveilled spaces through forms of placemaking that counter, navigate, and ignore securitization by reimagining their presents and futures alongside Himalayan Indigenous communities. However, while previously Tibetan and Himalayan Indigenous communities shared a form of solidarity with one another, in recent times there have been many calls from within the community for place-based politics of indigeneity that mark Himalayan Indigenous identities as distinctly non-Tibetan identities. To negotiate with these politics in flux, Tibetan refugees carve out and sustain a territory for themselves through memory and placemaking.


Rupak Shrestha, PhD

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Geography


Social Sciences




National politics
Human Rights
Diasporas and Migration