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Violent Social Conflicts in India's Forests

Violent Social Conflicts in India's Forests

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Published by nandinisundar
Violent social Conflicts in India’s Forests: Society, State and the Market. In Deeper Roots of Historical Injustice: Trends and Challenges in the Forests of India. Washington: RRI, 2012, pp. 13-32
Violent social Conflicts in India’s Forests: Society, State and the Market. In Deeper Roots of Historical Injustice: Trends and Challenges in the Forests of India. Washington: RRI, 2012, pp. 13-32

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Published by: nandinisundar on Oct 19, 2012
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Violent Social Conficts inIndia’s Forests
Society, State and the Market
nanDInI sunDaR
THIs cHapTeR looks aT conflIcTs
over meanings and objectives over or-est use and control in and around India’s orests, ranging rom everyday contes-tations over orest access among dierent communities in a village, to violentencounters among the orest department, police and villagers, to battles thatare ought out in the court. Civil society responses to these conficts cover awide spectrum rom advocacy with parliamentary parties, legal intervention, andpolitical mobilisation to armed struggle. Within civil society, even those whobelieve in lobbying and legal intervention, must be dierentiated by class andregion, since they bring with them very unequal strengths and unequal access togovernment. The political clout o associations o retired oresters is, or example,quite dierent rom that o associations o poor peasants. State responses equallyvary between negotiation, indierence, and severe repression, depending not juston the interlocutors, but on the political expediency o the moment. This chap-ter will include a typology o orest conficts.While the roots o many conficts go back to the aulty land and orest settle-ments o the last hundred years or more, the changing climate o investment andneo-liberal policies in the last two decades has given the question o ownershipand access rights over land (both agricultural and orest) added urgency. This
14 Deeper Roots of Historical Injustice
chapter will seek to plot both what is old in the orest question and what haschanged, identiying key orces that are driving the orest discourse in particularways, ongoing and potential conficts, and the eld o play which will determinethe likelihood o these being resolved or continuing.
Defning Conicts and Defning Violence
Dening what constitutes confict or violence is itsel contested, as are the rootso the confict, the relevant actors and the possible solutions. While the orestdepartment denes the problem in terms o villagers’ use o orests, seeing it asresponsible or degradation, villagers dene the orest problem in terms o a lacko rights. Almost every patch o orest land is subject to claims between alterna-tive users and uses o the same land.
When the discussion moves rom everydaycontestations on the grounds to legislation and policy, again there are debatesover the purpose and outcome o such laws and policies. Some o this is drivenby ideology. For example, conservationists have pitched the Forest Rights Act asa problem o tigers vs. tribals, arguing that wildlie needs pristine habitats; whiletribal rights activists as well as the Tiger Task Force have argued that there is noreason why one can’t see the uture in terms o tigers and tribals, and that thebasic problem is insecurity o tenure or tribals. While both sides recognise thatthere is a confict o interests that underlie the debate around the Act, each sidehas a dierent interpretation o the interests. Some o the debate around lawsand policies is driven more by institutional dierences than serious dierences o opinion. In the making o the orest rights act, or instance, there were dierencesbetween the Ministry o Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Ministry o Tribal Aairs; and as I shall show subsequently, the Supreme Court and MoEFhave on occasion been at loggerheads, and on occasion entered into alliances, onthe composition and working o committees.When it comes to violent conficts, such as the war between the Naxalitesand the government, while it is indubitable that the confict overlaps with or-est areas, the relevance o the orest per se in increasing confict is debatable (seeKoning et al 2008 who also do not see a direct correlation between orests andarmed confict). According to the government, the reason why the Naxalitesare ound in the central Indian tribal cum orest belt is because these areas aremarked by poor connectivity and thick orests which provide the insurgents withcover. Their solution is to cut down the trees along the main roads (or instance,the two national highways that run through Dantewada district in Chhattisgarhto Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra, have both seen massive road clearing ex-ercises) as well as send in large numbers o paramilitaries whose camps urther
Violent Social Conficts in India’s Forests
deplete the orests. A signicant part o displacement as well as orest diversionis or deense establishments, but this is rarely noted even in the civil societydiscourses around orest loss. In Chhattisgarh, the government has also resortedto a policy o village regrouping – orcibly evacuating people rom their villagesin the orests and settling them in shanty camps on the main roads, in order towean them rom supporting the insurgents. While the government has ociallyclaimed that they are feeing rom Naxalites, ocials have also argued that vil-lagers need to be regrouped to provide them basic services like schools and healthcare. This is in some sense not very dierent rom getting villagers out o nationalparks and sanctuaries, and then justiying it in terms o their own development.From another perspective, the orest is integral to the origins o Naxalism, sinceit is the exploitation aced by tribals who live in orests that has led to widespreadsupport or Maoist guerrillas. Adivasis lack secure tenure rights and are harassed byorest guards or minor violations. The Naxalites have provided protection againsteveryday harassment and eviction; redistributed land to compensate or the absenceo land reorm, and also played a major role in increasing the prices o tendu leaves.While confict is not driven by orest resources in the sense that it is otendriven by minerals (as in blood diamonds), orest incomes are an important ele-ment in the ongoing confict. In Chhattisgarh or example, while the Naxaliteslevy ‘taxes’ on tendu contractors, the leader o the anti-Naxalite campaign, theSalwa Judum, Mahendra Karma, has been charged by the CBI or his role in theMalik Makbuja timber scam.
For the government, the orests have a negativevalue as a cover or guerrillas, and are also an excuse or the ailure o govern-ment services, while or the villagers it is the structural violence o orest pol-icy that engenders support or Naxalism. For the government, the confict ariseswhen villagers take up arms against the government – and that alone constitutesviolence; or the villagers, the violence begins when the orest guard demands abribe or the policeman rapes a woman. What or the government is ‘business asusual’, is or people ‘violence as usual’.In short, when one ocuses on confict and violent social confict at that, itis important to set it against the backdrop o a continuum o actions, which aremore or less violent in their eects. Further, confict must be understood as bothlatent and maniest confict, because while the poor may be dissatised with astate o aairs, they can only express it when they eel they have some backingagainst or escape rom the brute consequences o protest. When analysing policyor law, it is inevitable, especially in a plural society, that any policy will involvesome adhoc resolution o conficting interests; the question is which side has therelative advantage, and the extent to which a policy generates urther confict.In the ollowing section, I provide a brie overview o the history o India’sorestry in relation to confict.

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