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Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill

The value of forests in the lives of local communities has been widely discussed in academic literature, yet forest use is a domain of contestation. The new Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill needs to be contextualised in the ground reality of conflicting interests and claims. First, the category of scheduled tribes is contested in social science discourse. Second, forest and tribal policy in India is not adequately sensitive to value systems of local communities and this creates considerable contestation between administration and the local people. This paper revisits these contestations in the worldwide body of academic discourse. There has been fair consensus in the literature that value systems and customary institutions of local communities have well-developed mechanisms that regulate sustainable lifeways and conserve local ecosystems, though unquestioning acceptance of these may also lead to errors. What is required is for policy to effectively deliver benefits to people and conserve biological diversity, and it is anthropologists who can mediate a dialogic space between the people, their civil society institutions, networks of advocacy, public and local intellectuals, the academia, policy and governance.

Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill A View from Anthropology and Call for Dialogue

The value of forests in the lives of local communities has been widely discussed in academic literature, yet forest use is a domain of contestation. The new Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill needs to be contextualised in the ground reality of conflicting interests and claims. First, the category of scheduled tribes is contested in social science discourse. Second, forest and tribal policy in India is not adequately sensitive to value systems of local communities and this creates considerable contestation between administration and the local people. This paper revisits these contestations in the worldwide body of academic discourse. There has been fair consensus in the literature that value systems and customary institutions of local communities have well-developed mechanisms that regulate sustainable lifeways and conserve local ecosystems, though unquestioning acceptance of these may also lead to errors. What is required is for policy to effectively deliver benefits to people and conserve biological diversity, and it is anthropologists who can mediate a dialogic space between the people, their civil society institutions, networks of advocacy, public and local intellectuals, the academia, policy and governance.


ocal communities have been geographically, ecologically and culturally linked to forest habitats, particularly in tropical regions of the world. In India, there are several local communities who depend on forest for primary or supplementary nutrition, ethnomedical practices, energy and various other life supporting needs. Their view of nature is based on trust rather than domination, a perception which Tim Ingold (2000) posits as common among hunter-gatherers. Communities have been affected by restrictions to forest access under protection laws. Most often these laws draw their validation from a western perception of nature very unlike the reciprocal relationship perceived by these communities.

The new Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill needs to be contextualised in the cultural specificities of forest dependent peoples, particularly “tribal” peoples, their indigenous knowledge (IK) systems and the need to revive a supportive relationship between local communities and the native biodiversity.

Cultural Context of Forests

The forest is like our mother, We know how to live by suckling at its breast. We know the name of every tree, shrub and herb, We know its uses. If we were made to live in a land without forests, Then all this learning that we have cherished Over the generations will become useless, And slowly, we will forget it all (Bawa Mahalia, a Bhil peasant in a letter of protest against forced eviction for the Narmada project).

Most forest dependent local communities in India are either marginal settled cultivators or shifting cultivators who supplement their nutritional sources with some hunting and gathering. A few communities depend almost exclusively on hunting and gathering. Large tracts of forest are essential to their survival strategies. Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha (1992) posit that shifting cultivation and hunting-gathering “with their low population densities, low per capita resource demands, cycles of materials closed on limited spatial scales, and a number of practices that promote sustainable resource use” usually have minimal ecological impact.

Animals like hares, wild boars and some monitor lizards can be hunted, and various edible mushrooms and leaves gathered for their nutritional value. Besides foods, various products from the forest have been traditionally used by forest dependent peoples. For example, the Birhor and Kharia people in Jharkhand, in areas studied by the first author, collect a certain species of creepers for its fibre. Numerous ethnomedical studies have revealed that healers in forest dwelling communities extensively use medicinal herbs; a Birhor healer in Jharkhand personally revealed a rich pharmacopoeia to the first author. Forest dwelling communities depend almost entirely, for their energy needs, from firewood collected from the forest. Other collectibles include bamboo for basket making, grasses for brooms, and so on. The forests have also been valuable for horticulture purposes in areas of Assam studied by the second author.

In the present parlance of forest management in post-colonial India, most of these traditional products of the forest have been named non-timber forest produce (NTFP). The implicit dichotomy is between what constitutes timber, which can be sold at high

Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 2006 prices in the market and is state property, and what is not timber, of less commercial value, and to which local communities can be allowed access. The latter are now marketed by a state supported marketing cooperative named TRIFED. Central India accounts for the largest share in monetised market for NTFP. Table 1 gives a list of some salient forest collectibles in central India and their uses, including traditional uses and commercial uses in the newly monetised local economies.

According to Tim Ingold (2000) hunting and gathering communities see nature as a continuum of which they themselves are a part; for example, some northern hunting communities believe that the caribou willingly gives itself up to the hunter and if the hunter is disrespectful towards the prey he risks being unsuccessful in future hunts. Perceptions of a reciprocal relationship with nature are recorded in the manifesto of the Jharkhandis Organisation for Human Rights [JOHAR 2001], which says that the tribals of Jharkhand enjoy the bounties of the forest, leaving space and utility for the other animals, and other animals of prey for the predators; that the tribal allows the forest to grow and regenerate itself. Similar perceptions are expressed by Bawa Mahalia, quoted at the beginning of this article, published in Voices 2001.

Since hunting and gathering, as well as swiddening have remained ways of life for many forest dependent communities in India, there is persistent cultural valuation of the forest: conservation and sustainable use are part of the norms governing the interface between the human and the non-human.

Sacred groves, typical to Indian tradition, known by various local or regional names have been interpreted as an ancient strategy for sustainable use of the forest. Sacred groves are central to local belief systems and practices in many different parts of India. Social scientists and ecologists have reported conservation practices centred on sacred groves, such as in the Western Ghats and the Khasi Hills. Studies in landscape ecology show that in pre-colonial days, there was greater diversity of landscapes, and sacred groves and shifting cultivation contributed to this diversity [cf Gadgil and Vartak 1976; Gadgil and Chandran 1992; Gadgil and Guha 1992; J J Roy Burman 2003]. Similarly, totemic social organisations have contributed to protection of plants and animals [Kothari 1996]. There is considerable consensus in the literature that local communities, whether consciously or not, have ensured sustainable use of forest [Gadgil and Guha 1992; Kothari 1996; Guha 1999, 2003]. Table 2 lists some of the rare species of flora and fauna Gadgil and Chandran (1992) have reported.

Conflict with Policy

We have for centuries been living in a harmonious environment. We still possess some of these old values and traditions. We know it is late, but we still think there is time to salvage some of our good experiences. After all, this earth is for us all. This earth does not belong to us, we belong to her [JOHAR 2001].

If you love tigers so much, why don’t you shift all of them to Hyderabad and declare the city a tiger reserve? (A Chenchu huntergatherer of Nallamala Hills displaced by a tiger reserve.)

There has been an enormous shift in perception since colonial rule: the concept of forest protection to the exclusion of forest dwelling communities de-linked what was an ancient, culturally validated and implicitly acknowledged ecological link [cf Gadgil and Guha 1992; Saberwal and Rangarajan 2003a]. This has at times led to violent resistance by local communities [cf Guha 1999; Saberwal and Rangarajan 2003a].

Unfortunately the post-colonial state in India has largely continued the exclusion of local communities, and the supposed move towards a more inclusive forest policy is yet to be actualised at the ground level. Strict exclusion of people from protected areas has often been mediated by a desire to protect species [cf Rangarajan 2003], but the same policies have allowed the commercial extraction of timber in other areas.

The 1952 forest policy classified forest into protected forests for ecological balance, national forests for commercial use, village forests for community use and tree lands to improve the physical condition of the country. It was in fact retrogressive as the earlier, colonial policies left some space for subsistence use and did not touch the private/CPR (common pool resource) forests. The only

Table 1: Forest Produce in Central India

Plant Part Use Collected

Sal (Shorea robusta) Seed Food

Leaf Fresh leaves used for making traditional cups for eating and drinking. Dried leaves are sold to middlemen for manufacture into disposable plates, bowls and cups.

Mahua (Bassia latifolia) S e e d Used to make oil, known as kachada in Jharkhand, traditionally used for lighting lamps. Also, cooked and eaten. Flower Used to distil liquor known by various local names such as irpi kadu among the Kondh, and paurau among the Santhal. Fruit Eaten raw or cooked.

Amla (Pysilianthrius embelica) Fruit Medicinal use

Harra (Terminalia chabula) Fruit Medicinal use

Bahera (Terminalia ballarica) Fruit Medicinal use

Palash (Butea frondosa) Seed Food

Table 2: Conservation of Species in Sacred Groves of the Western Ghats

Name of Species Location Location Approximate Where Found Where Found Distance in Sacred Endemically between Grove Sacred Grove and Endemic Habitat (Kms)

Lion tailed macaque Katlekan, Threatened (monkey) Uttara Kannada

Myristica swamp Uttara South Kerala ±500 including the Kannada Myristica magnifica palm and the Piranga dicksoni tree, a threatened ecosystem.

Gurjan tree: Uttara Kerala ±400 Dipterocarpus indicus Kannada A leguminous climber: Kerala New species Kunstleria keralensis identified Blepharistemma Kerala Threatened

membranifolia Buchanania lanceolata Kerala Threatened Pterospermum reticulatum Kerala Threatened Syzygium travancorium South Kerala Threatened Dhup tree: Canarium Maharashtra Uttara ±400

strictum Kannada

Source: Gadgil and Chandran, 1992.

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silver lining was a soft approach to conversion from shifting cultivation.

The 1988 forest policy was some improvement in that it conceived people’s involvement and some protection for customary access rights, though with some riders like linking the access rights to the carrying capacity of the forest. There was also some conception of capacity building among forest communities and regenerating forest through planned silviculture. This is how the concept of joint forest management (JFM) came into being as a participatory model for managing forest.

Planned silviculture and JFM sounded better on paper than they have actually been at the ground level. Eucalyptus monocultured forest has replaced precious native biodiversity in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. Quoting a Jhumar song (a genre of folk music of Jharkhand and surrounding areas), P P Mahato (2001) has pointed out the reactions of the people to the ill-conceived silviculture programme of eucalyptus monoculturation. The ignorance and cultural insensitivity of forest administration is exposed in such actions as clear felling an entire sacred grove in the Siddapur taluka, Uttara Kannada, and converting it into an eucalyptus plantation, an event Gadgil and Chandran (1992) have reported. Also, the per capita forest cover is far below acceptable levels.

In India, categories of protected areas include national parks, reserved forests, JFM forests and biosphere reserves. In places, community forest management (CFM), intended to be a more participatory model, is used instead of JFM. National parks have been exposed to ecodevelopment models, supposedly to build capacity among local communities: the models include ecotourism and NTFP extraction. National parks typically have a core area with megafauna and a fringe area which is administered like a JFM forest. Many of the national parks have human populations in their core areas. Protection practices vary from one state to another, though there is some standardisation by the central government.

Table 3 gives a summary of the status of forest in India and an assessment of the success (or rather, lack thereof) of the stringent forest policy in post-colonial India.

Forest Rights Bill

A Contextual Critique

In the context of the cultural and ecological links between forests and local communities, the new Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill still offers too little, too late.

In India, most “tribal” peoples are classed under the administrative category of scheduled tribes: a category neither comprehensive, nor always sociologically valid. Andre Beteille (1974) warns against the unquestioning use of scheduled tribes as a category in social science. Georg Pffeffer (1997), in his study of the Kondhs of Eastern Ghats, points out the symbiotic relationship sustained over generations between tribals and other communities, which are classified as castes, and he contrasts this relationship with other, less reciprocally supportive ones with “outsider” castes, in this case migrants from the plains. Because of its inadequacy, the category of scheduled tribes can lead to errors in policy-planning and execution. The total population of scheduled tribes was 67.76 million in the 1991 Census. The Hari Singh Committee of 1967 stated that 60 per cent of tribal people lived in forests and another 30 per cent close to forests. The people dependent on forests, particularly in central India and the western Himalayas, would actually be rather more in number than admitted by administrative lists of tribes.

We have to admit that to correct the inadequacies of the list of scheduled tribes is an almost impossible task, given the lack of political will that prevents effective governance in any issue related to tribes in India and, what is more, the complex vested interests linked with “caste” and “tribe”, and the politics surrounding such identities. This makes even self-identification as recommended by the ILO Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, No 169, Geneva 1989, highly contentious unless it can be generated by a large consensus within and between communities.

In fact, as far as targeting the new policy is concerned, it would make sense to actually identify, at local levels, the stakeholders in forest-based lifeways and legislate beneficial measures for them and the forest ecosystems to which they belong. This process of identification would have to be contextualised in local specificities. It would have to necessarily take into account the various cultural constructions of the forest-human interface, and also the structures of power and agency at local levels to ensure that legislation spreads its benefits evenly and adequately reaches the disadvantaged. A suggestion could be that anthropologists are engaged for this task.

The bill is silent on the issue of proving occupancy of forestland before 1980, the cut-off date for vesting land and recognising rights. Without contesting the cut-off date, which by its very nature has to be arbitrary by any academic standard, we point out that this silence clearly leaves unwelcome space for manipulation by vested interests. Maharashtra has set a benchmark of best practice in recognising “tribal” land, based on more practical and credible criteria than “documentary evidence”, but the bill should evolve a standard practice mandatory for all states. Offers of land by government can be highly contentious and we fail to understand why the bill neglects this key issue. Civil society institutions could catalyse consensus between peoples on land occupation with the help of academia and governance and informed by anthropological knowledge of the cultural link with forest. Mechanisms of land transfer should ideally target collectivities rather than individuals as beneficiaries, given especially the communal nature of customary landholding in many of the forest areas.

Another shortcoming of the bill is its insistence on recognising the rights of people scheduled in a particular area, which is typically a state level list. This perpetuates the errors of linguistic state formation that has been criticised in anthropological literature [Geertz 1973]. Moreover, what is rather strange, it ignores the fact that large populations have been forced to migrate over the past few centuries: drafted as slave labour in the colony, and persistently displaced by mining, dams, and land alienation in the post-colonial state.

Distribution of forestlands also raises another pertinent issue: to what extent the administration can ensure that the lands

Table 3: Status of Forests in India

Total land area 328.7 million hectares Agricultural land 142.5 million hectares (43.3 per cent) Recorded forest cover 76.5 million hectares (23.2 per cent) Actual forest cover 63.34 million hectares (19.27 per cent) Per capita forest area 0.08 hectares World average per capita forest area 0.64 hectares

Source: P K Biswas 2006.

Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 2006 distributed would not be put to uses incompatible with conservation of biological diversity. As Timothy K Choy (2005) points out, though in an urban context, land reserved for “original” inhabitants in Hong Kong has been economically exploited in the booming real estate market by the beneficiaries of the reservation. There is very real danger in the greed of people, especially people separated from customary collectivities and atomised into individuals. There is danger, too, in the state sanctioned marketing machinery of the agricultural chemical industry. Forestlands could very soon be put to intensive fertiliser and pesticide hungry agriculture. We suggest that the only solution is to ensure that culturally validated institutional mechanisms like the “sacred grove” be consciously revived. Anthropological knowledge could be harnessed to this end. The state, academia and local civil society would have to collaborate to ensure this. At the same time these lands must be given to organic agriculture, even if it needs to be subsidised by the government.

Though the important start-up role given to the gram sabha seems democratic, power relations (including but not restricted to bureaucratic domination of the state governments) embedded in these institutions can restrict the reach of benefits. For example, the first author has seen a Bengali village appropriate, with the implicit support of the gram panchayat and the block development office, electric poles meant for a neighbouring Santhal village. The exact institutional mechanisms best suited to participatory control of forest use and the extent of participation have been debated and contested [cf Kothari 1996], but the lead role has of necessity to be that of local civil society. We feel local civil society, assisted by the state and academia, in a process mediated by “anthropological” knowledge of cultural diversity and the local operations of power, can ensure sustainable forest use. Given that forest is closely linked to belief systems [Gadgil and Guha 1992; Gadgil and Chandran 1992; Kempf 1993; Kothari 1996] innovative use can be made of belief systems and ritual specialists. Gerrit Huizer (1999) says of the progressive role of “spiritual” values and institutions: “I have tried to come to grips with spirituality through active participation in the struggle for survival and justice of those with whom I have worked”.

State governments have been arbitrary in handling distribution of lands; for example, Gujarat has persistently refused to resettle people displaced from Narmada valley in social groupings of their own choice, ignoring the stated policy of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal [Scudder 2005]. Settlement of forest land necessarily has to associate social groupings as chosen by the beneficiaries themselves to allow effective mobilisation of local civil society.

Unless this proposed largesse with forestland is mediated by anthropological knowledge and methods of applied anthropology, it may not deliver justice to local communities and may lead to further depletion of forest.

People and Protected Areas

Call for Dialogue

Important areas of concern in recent discourse in social sciences, particularly in anthropology, have included: indigenous institutions and (western) modernisation; indigenous knowledge and its relations of power with (western) scientific knowledge; the power of representation; dialogue between forms of knowledge and forms of scholarship; and the relations between the global and the local. We situate our recommendation for a dialogic process involving local civil society in this range of discourse.

In the age of globalisation, the question of ensuring justice to local communities by restoring their access to the forest is something that has enormous implications, larger than just the issue at hand. Equally it is a very contentious issue when seen in the context of protecting biological diversity, and it involves many different collectivities and interest groups. As Amita Baviskar (2003) points out: “Various social groups bring different agendas on board and conservation emerges as a contested terrain where, not just nature as wildlife, but nature as the innate character of social being is staked and defended”.

The protection accorded to the forest to the exclusion of local communities has been seen as a violation of human rights, while conflict between the state machinery and the people is detrimental to wildlife protection. The ethical implications of environmental protection and the responsibility of the human species to the rest of nature have been debated [Kothari 1996]. Equally, protection has its ironies: local people have to move out of protected areas so that the first world constituencies of protectionist lobbies can be assured that some rare species has been preserved and evidence is shown in a wildlife documentary on television.

Over the years, earlier as part of its socialist nation-building processes and later as a part of its neoliberal structural readjustments, post-colonial India has set a poor track record in addressing the needs of forest dependent communities.

Both the socialist and capitalist/neoliberal phases in the history of post-colonial India have been marked by a separation of the human from nature validated by a western development paradigm. Saloni Suri (1996) points out that the western concept of protected areas as untouched by humans was largely based on the “ignorance of the historical relationship between people and their habitat and the role people play in maintaining biodiversity”, an issue we have explored above. Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha (1992) use “modes of resource use” as a more comprehensive model than “modes of production” and show that capitalist and socialist societies do not differ in their “scale and direction of natural resource flows, the technologies of resource exploitation, the patterns of energy use, the ideologies of human nature interaction”, and thus produce the same nature of ecological impact. Using the Marxist concept of “alienation”, Ramachandra Guha (1999) argues that (western) conservation concepts “alienate humans from nature” by atomising the individual, the state being more comfortable dealing with individuals than with collectivities.

In the present situation, the link between forest and peoples is thus not just a contested ground within India, far less a theme that touches the lives of only the beneficiaries of forest access legislation. The key issues here are: the survival of a shared wealth of biological and cultural diversity; a necessary rethinking of the link between human beings and the rest of nature in terms of cultural values; and also, an issue of conceptualising the relations between the global and the local.

These issues are related to other seemingly insidious operations of power, now a part of neoliberal globalisation which in the words of James Ferguson (1999) “… creates new inequalities even as it brings into being new commonalities and lines of communication … creates new, up-to-date methods not only of connecting places but of bypassing and ignoring them”. Postcolonial India, in its drives to modernisation has effectively

Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 2006

promoted the economies of some people at the expense of others. It has over the years increasingly marginalised “tribes” as carrying a low price tag in terms of the social costs of development. Their civil rights and the security of their homelands are dispensable for any and every objective that might serve “national” goals, typically goals of other peoples and homelands: whether these imply the isolation of protected areas, mining, building dams, or whatever. This is why the hills and valleys of the upper Narmada have to bear the costs for the plains of Gujarat. Almost every history of post-colonial development tells a similar story. The history of forest legislation is very much a case in point.

There is near consensus in academia on the important role of local communities and the need for their proactive participation in forest management. Normative suggestions from the academia largely point to indigenous institutions. Vandana Shiva (1988, 1992) and others have advocated indigenous knowledge (IK) systems for an alternative approach to policy. B K Roy Burman (1995) supports use of indigenous institutions for managing the forest-community interface and Jeffrey McNeely (1993) advocates innovative strategies based on indigenous social institutions.

At the same time we need not be celebratory or romantic in recommending local cultural values or indigenous institutions. K K Misra (2005) cites the example of the Khamtis of Lohit valley, Arunachal Pradesh among whom “the power vested in the chiefs to manage village resources and to redistribute them has been improperly utilised in the advantage of the powerful few”. Similarly, Gadgil and Chandran (1992) point out from examples in the Western Ghats of Kerala and Karnataka that “the identification of the wild woodland spirits … with the gods of the Hindu pantheon” has encouraged the complete or partial felling of sacred groves by the local communities themselves, in order to build temples. These are instances to show that indigenous cultures may sometimes positively sanction behaviours harmful to the environment and to equitable resource use.

However, contrary examples show us belief systems and lifeways that leave intercultural and dialogic spaces, guard social equity and protect biodiversity. For example, Marta Vanucci (1992) reports that in the Sunderbans, the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta mangroves, the sacred sites of ‘bano bibi’, the forest goddess, are venerated by “Hindus, Muslims, mundas, santals and visitors” alike. Likewise, Vandana Shiva (1992) points out how IK systems maintained gender equity while planned modernisation has devalued women’s knowledge in agricultural and pastoral communities in India. In parts of Jharkhand and neighbouring areas, studied by the first author, sacred spaces are venerated by munda, santhal, kharia, ‘varna’ Hindus and dalits. These sacred spaces, even if with a temple structure, have intact groves rich in biological diversity. These local sacred spaces and their associated belief systems are thus supportive to both biological and cultural diversity.

It is therefore necessary to interpret the local realities in anthropological terms to evolve the best and most locally compatible conservation practices that will protect and enhance biological and cultural diversity. The key lies in identifying those modes of indigenous discourse that, to use the words of Jeffrey McNeely (1993) “support diversity as a value”.

What is called for is, in essence, an informed dialogue. To protect biological and cultural diversity in India, we propose a larger and more inclusive dialogue at a very basic level, between local cultures and communities, their civil society institutions and those representing them in advocacy, i e, the academic fraternity, public intellectuals, local scholars, and the government.

One form of dialogue very important to conservation practice is the interaction of indigenous or local knowledges with western science. Roy Ellen (2006) suggests: “…the good news is that the arguments in favour of making use of indigenous environmental knowledge (IEK) are now being incorporated into some of the best science, and the best developmental practice…by leaving a space for local knowledge to respond to local problems...” Culturally embedded IK systems should be seen as a part of cultural heritage. By now we know that what is “indigenous” or “traditional” is not also static in time, an error repeatedly pointed out by anthropology. Shepard Krech (2005) says, “… tradition, a vexed concept, is mutable, open to external influence, and at times invented anew in succeeding generations”. This also means that a vast body of cumulative oral knowledge, often updated by generations, is open to use for human and ecological welfare. Discussing the interface between scientific conservation and local knowledge in the practice of wildlife protection in India, Saberwal and Rangarajan (2003 a) call for “serious efforts to unpack and critically analyse the multiple levels and layers of local knowledge”.

Another form of dialogue that is called for is in the domain of scholarly activity. Discussing what he calls “globalisation from below” as an emergent form of social organisation, Arjun Appadurai (2001) suggests that western academia should rethink the category of “research” and envision a dialogic space that accommodates a greater plurality of scholarly practices including the work of public intellectuals and the civil society. He asks: “Can we retain the methodological rigour of modern social science while restoring some of the prestige and energy of earlier visions of scholarship in which moral and political concerns were central”? He further points out: “This vision of global collaborative teaching and learning about globalisation may not resolve the great antinomies of power that characterise the world, but it might help even the playing field”.

In discussing possible participatory models of protected area management in India, Ashish Kothari (1996) explores a dialogic process and asks the critical questions: “How much relative control will communities and officials have; what customary rights and benefits would be ensured; and what level of conservation will local communities have to ensure in return”?

The current academic exploration of different forms of dialogue, if carried through in praxis, can create just opportunities for the local to represent its needs in the universe of discourse that contains scholarship, science, conservation, and the political and administrative models of development.

In India there is growing participation by civil society institutions in debates concerning environment. It is a positive sign for democracy in India, however tentative, that grassroots movements in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Manipur and Uttaranchal are becoming increasingly audible. Also, such collectivities as the All-India Conference of Adivasi and Indigenous People (AICFAIP), Adivasi Socio-Educational and Cultural Association (ASECA), or the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) are mobilising people and ideas, and making their voices heard in larger-than-local processes. Moreover, public intellectuals like Ganesh Balachander, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy have contributed to global concern about issues of human rights and environment.

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Unfortunately however, inherent imbalances of power have ensured that there is no real equal platform for dialogue. This is where academia can and should engage itself to make a difference.

In this context we call for processes of dialogue mediated by anthropology, with its tradition of scholarship on the local, its high-resolution microlevel methodologies, and its body of knowledge produced in partnership with local communities. To effectively contribute to “globalisation from below”, anthropology has to fine-tune its method, innovatively develop its toolkit and give yet another thought to its research strategies, to increase the stakes held by local partners in the knowledge produced. These will enable anthropology to generate and mediate forms of discourse in and through which the local civil society and their networks of advocacy can better negotiate local interests with larger powers, whether the nation-state or capital.



[We express our warmest regards to EPW’s referee for the wonderful suggestions that have greatly added value to the paper.]


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Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 2006

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