Final Colloquium: Adivasi Rights and Wildlife Conservation: Contesting Citizenship in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve by Priya Gupta, Conference Hall II, NIAS, 11 AM
Title: Adivasi Rights and Wildlife Conservation: Contesting Citizenship in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve
Candidate: Ms. Priya Gupta
Advisor: Prof. Carol Upadhya
Date: Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Time: 11:00 am
Venue: Conf. Hall-II, NIAS
This thesis explores the ways in which the Adivasis of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka make claims to citizenship and the contestations around them. Based on sixteen months of fieldwork, I foreground the everyday reality of Adivasi lives and their interactions with the state (specifically, the Forest Department) to deconstruct both the categories of Adivasi and citizenship, highlighting their heterogeneity which stems from the diverse histories and social circumstances. Building on the literature on Adivasi identity and politics, I explore the struggles of communities living in and around Nagarahole and the roles of various actors — government agencies, voluntary organisations, and local communities — in shaping Adivasi claims to land and citizenship in Nagarahole. The thesis documents their changing relationship with the state and the forest from the colonial period to the present, highlighting changes in identity and assertions in relation to changes in forest governance — from forest labourers and conditional rights holders under colonial rule, to undesirable forest dwellers to be evicted under the Wildlife Protection Act, to legitimate rights holders under the Forest Rights Act. The thesis analyses the diverse responses of the Adivasis of Nagarahole to evictions and resettlement programmes: while some assert their rights by stressing their historical roots in, and sense of belonging to, the forest, others reject their representation as forest dwellers and instead deploy the language of development to demand state support and facilities to forge a better life outside the forest. These powerful and countervailing discourses — of Adivasi autonomy versus development as integration with the ‘mainstream’ — echo debates from the early post-Independence period about the relation of ‘tribal’ groups to the Indian nation. Adivasis’ responses to eviction and the Forest Rights Act are also shaped by international conservation and indigenous rights movements. The thesis shows how different individuals and groups in Nagarahole appropriate and articulate diverse narratives in pursuit of their claims, suggesting that citizenship for Adivasis is a negotiated category dialectically produced in response to forest governance regimes. The argument also suggests that forest rights policy, which is framed as decentralised and inclusive, continue to work with a priori notions and assumptions made about or on behalf of people, and not with or by them.