Open Defense of Thesis by Ms. Priya Gupta on 'Adivasi Rights and Wildlife Conservation: Contesting Citizenship in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve'

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus






Title: Adivasi Rights and Wildlife Conservation: Contesting Citizenship in

 Nagarahole Tiger Reserve


Candidate: Ms. Priya Gupta

         School of Natural Sciences and Engineering


Advisor:  Prof. Carol Upadhya

Date:  Monday, September 28, 2020

Time:  11:00 am

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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 the categories of Adivasi and of citizenship, highlighting their heterogeneity which stems from 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 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 (FRA). The thesis analyses the diverse responses of the Adivasis of Nagarahole to the resettlement programme and FRA: 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. The diverse responses of Adivasis to the FRA are also shaped by international conservation and indigenous rights movements. The thesis shows how different individuals and groups in Nagarahole appropriate and articulate different narratives in pursuit of their claims, suggesting that citizenship for Adivasis is a negotiated category, dialectically produced in response to forest governance regimes. The thesis also suggests that the forest rights policy, which is framed as decentralised and inclusive, continues to work with a priori notions and assumptions made about or on behalf of the people, rather than with or by them.

Monday, September 28, 2020