ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tribal Rights and Heritage Conservation in the Western Ghats of Karnataka

In the context of Karnataka, the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the heritage sites of the Western Ghats makes for an important case study of how the concerns of tribals and indigenous people are often marginalised in the debates around conservation. Analysing the process of assigning heritage status to the sites located in the state, reports of government committees on the conservation and global studies show that conservation models that vouched for exclusion of human habitants in ecologically sensitive areas failed to conserve biodiversity. Hence, the adoption of an inclusive and participatory approach is the need of the hour.

Blurred Boundaries

This paper critically analyses the politics of claim-making, vis-à-vis, the Forest Rights Act by illustrating how three distinct political actors in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu, have used the FRA. In this analysis the law has not been taken as an immutable category, but rather as a political instrument that various groups use to assert their identities and political imaginaries. In doing so, these imaginaries invoke unique histories and reference multiple "genealogies of belonging." By highlighting the multiple uses and interpretations of the FRA in Gudalur, this study opens up space for a discussion around some larger concerns implicated within issues of forests, rights and conservation, particularly, the limits of seeing Adivasis as the only authentic traditional forest-dwellers by highlighting the blurred boundaries between various categories--Adivasi and non-Adivasi, forest and non-forest, legality and illegality. It is in these liminal spaces, where boundaries are blurred, this study offers an analysis informed by the analytic of governmentality to argue that local actors exercise agency in either taking on or resisting environmental subjectivities framed by the FRA.
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