1st Edition

A Political Ecology of Forest Conservation in India Communities, Wildlife and the State

By Amrita Sen Copyright 2022
    216 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    216 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book critically explores the political ecology of human marginalization, wildlife conservation and the role of the state in politicizing conservation frameworks, drawing on examples from forests in India.

    The book specifically demonstrates the nuances within human-environmental linkages, by showing how environmental concerns are not only ecological in content but also political. In India a large part of the forests and their surrounding areas were inhabited far before they were designated as protected areas and inviolate zones, with the local population reliant on forests for their survival and livelihoods. Thus, socioecological conflicts between the forest dependents and official state bodies have been widespread. This book uses a political ecology lens to explore the complex interplay between current norms of forest conservation and environmental subjectivities, illustrating contemporary articulation of forest rights and the complex mediations between forest dependents and different state and non-state bodies in designing and implementing regulatory standards for wildlife and forest protection. It foregrounds the issues of identity, migration and cultural politics while discussing the politics of conservation. Through a political ecology approach, the book not only is human-centric but also makes significant use of the role of non-humans in foregrounding the conservation discourse, with a particular focus on tigers.

    The book will be of great interest to students and academics studying forest conservation, human–wildlife interactions and political ecology.

    1. Introduction

    2. Reclaiming riverine forests: An environmental history of the Sundarbans

    3. People and forests: Understanding social structures in a vulnerable ecology

    4. Forest based livelihoods, survival crisis and politics of belonging in conservation landscapes

    5. Decentralizing conservation processes through rights-based frameworks: Forest rights act and joint forest management

    6. A political ecology of non-human subject making in forest conservation

    7. Conclusions


    Amrita Sen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Visiting Faculty with Azim Premji University, India. Her research interests include cultural and political ecology, politics of forest conservation, urban environmental conflicts and Anthropocene studies. In 2019, she received the ‘Excellence in PhD Thesis award’ from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, for her doctoral research on the conservation politics in Sundarbans.

    "The Sunderbans stands out as not just as the biggest mangrove forest in the world, but as a complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional ensemble of humans and non-human actors. We actually know and understand much less than we think we do and Sen takes one important step in this book in explicating this dynamic world of forests, tigers, prawn, livelihoods, conflict, itinerants, rivers, tides, boats, fishing nets, bees, fakirs and much more … a very welcome addition to the literature."
    Pankaj Sekhsaria, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

    "A meticulously researched account. This book is an excellent resource for students of conservation and researchers alike. The Indian Forest Rights Act was potentially one of the more radical and transformative conservation experiments. This careful analysis of its failures, and the reasons why it is not implemented is important. The site of the study – the Sunderbans – and the intricate understanding of mobility and the examination of indigeneity that the author provides, make it all the more important. This is an excellent contribution to our understanding of the political ecology of conservation."
    Dan Brockington, University of Sheffield

    "Amrita Sen advances the field of political ecology by centering the mutually constitutive nature of political and ecological contexts of the socioecological landscape in the Indian Sundarbans. Her fascinating ethnographic work engages deeply with forest-based life worlds of families, social groups, and political communities that inhabit these endangered and rapidly eroding landscapes. Sen’s arguments about how humans and tigers of Sundarbans are subjectified, through processes of regulation, control, and subjugation, shine new light on the complex workings of power within the narratives of interspecies rights."
    Prakash Kashwan, Author of Democracy in the Woods: Environmental Conservation and Social Justice in India, Tanzania, and Mexico (2017) and Editor of Climate Justice in India

    "Amrita Sen breaks new ground in understanding the politics of participation in community-based conservation, by exploring how the capacity to participate is unequally distributed among different social groups as well as between humans and nonhumans. A timely and important intervention."
    Robert Fletcher, author of Romancing the Wild: Cultural Dimensions of Ecotourism. Wageningen University

    "Sundarbans is in the centre-stage of our climate change debate. By exploring the political ecology of India’s highly contested regime of forest conservation and by looking at what is happening in the Sundarbans, this book offers compelling insights into the making of modern Indian nature. This will be a companion for those interested in Indian environmental politics."
    Arupjyoti Saikia, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati 

    "A valuable contribution to the burgeoning political ecology literature in India. By taking a rights-based approach, this book highlights the adverse environmental justice implications of conservation policy in the Sunderbans and how well intended laws such as the Forest Rights Act end up benefiting powerful interests at the expense of more marginalised forest-fishers."
    Ajit Menon, Madras Institute of Development Studies