I had this realization a few weeks ago. For the longest time, I was struggling to connect the dots. In the interviews I was conducting, the events I was participating in—in this research—was there any topic that stood out? Was there any theme that connected all these different things? And then (this never happens to me) I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night with the realization that it had been staring me right in the face. It’s the forest. The forest plays a critical role in so much—women collect wood daily from it for cooking, it contains the clay and stone used in certain art forms, provides plants used for medicinal purposes, and is the location of multiple shrines. It is part and parcel of daily life.
Before I move forward, though, a little bit of background information. Sawai Madhopur is the home of the Ranthambore National Park. The park was created as a result of Project Tiger, a tiger conservation program that was launched by the Indian government in 1973. As of 2008 there were an estimated 34 adult tigers in the park and over 14 cubs. As a result of the park, tourism is a prominent industry in Sawai Madhopur.
The park and the tourism it generates poses a stark contrast to the relationship people in the neighboring villages have to the forest. Many hotels sit almost directly within the villages, yet they are run by people from outside of the Sawai Madhopur area. As the park has been expanded, several villages that were located within the forest have been rehabilitated. While the government has compensated the people living in rehabilitated villages, people have had to adjust to a new way of life—life outside of the forest—and in one case, because of bureaucratic issues, a village has been unable to claim farmer subsidies post rehabilitation (I plan to expand on this in a future blog post). There is also some question as to whether these rehabilitations are truly voluntary. As a coworker of mine put it, “If I tell you that you can sit down in a chair but I’ve placed several mosquitoes underneath the chair, would you sit down?”
All of this makes me think about narratives. The narratives told about the forest, about Sawai Madhopur, seem to be defined by the tourist industry, and seem to focus on the tigers. What about the people living in the area and their relationship to the forest? How would they tell the narrative? This is what I hope to focus on for the remaining five (are their really only five months left?!) months of the fellowship. In doing so, of course, I’ll need to think about how we can implement stories of the forest and people’s relationships to the forest into the curriculum for students.