Reclaiming the Forest

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.

Avital loved staying in India before and finds it an incredible and fascinating country. She is excited to be challenged and to learn from India, while gaining experience on the ground, learning from the people at her host organization and the other fellows to translate skills she has gained into development in India. She is excited to be challenged to think differently and to grow. Through this fellowship, Avital wants to get a better understanding of development in India and learn what skills that she can best contribute to development, build new ones and broaden her understanding of development and India. Her study of Hindi, past experience of living in India and her experience of having to move rapidly between multiple roles and requirements while working at a startup are few experiences that Avital feels would help her in this fellowship.

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3 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Forest

  1. This is a brilliant post. So much is connected to the forest itself! I think you’re shedding light on an interesting problem when it comes to this space: the livelihoods of the local community versus conservation of wildlife and economic growth through tourism. I’m excited to read your next blog!

  2. I love this. Ethnographic enquiry and its eureka moments are what I live for. You’re a natural (anthrops, don’t hate), Tali. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  3. The crispness of your writing always impresses me. Actually, I find your whole approach really satisfying. Keep up the great work, friend!

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