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Forest of Tigers: People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans

Abstract

Acclaimed for their unique ecosystem and Royal Bengal tigers, the mangrove slands that comprise the Sundarbans area of the Bengal delta are the setting for this anthropological work. The key question that the author explores is: what do tigers mean for the islanders of the Sundarbans? The diverse origins and current occupations of the local population produce different answers to this question; but for all, 'the tiger question' is a significant social marker. Far more than through caste, tribe or religion, the Sundarbans islanders articulate their social locations and interactions by reference to the non-human world - the forest and its terrifying protagonist, the man-eating tiger. This study is also an exploration of the history of the encounter of Islam and Hinduism in the region, expressed through tiger-charming practices, the legacy of Sufi pirs and the worship of forest deities such as Bonbibi and Dokkhin Rai. With the recent arrival of the prawn industry, the products of which are sold to a global market, the marginal workers of the forest, especially women, are beginning to shift their religious allegiances. What is driving the displacement of the traditional forest deities by the more powerful, more 'global' figure of Kali? As environmentalists highlight the unique biodiversity of the Sundarbans ecosystem and push for greater conservation, the author revisits the islanders' memories of the Morichjhanpi massacre and their uneasy engagements with statist politics. These provide the critical background for the present-day dilemmas which emerge regarding the perceived unjust allocation of resources between humans and wildlife in a region better known as 'tiger-land'. The book combines ethnography on a little-known region with contemporary theoretical insights to provide a new frame of reference to understand social relations in the Indian subcontinent. It will be of interest to scholars and students of anthropology, sociology, development studies, religion, cultural studies, as well as those working on environment, conservation, the state and issues relating to discrimination and marginality. Table of contents: List of Maps and Illustrations vii Acknowledgements ix Note on Transliteration xiv I. Introduction 1 II. The Village and the Forest 21 III. Land and its Hierarchies 35 IV. Is Salt Water Thicker than Blood? 65 V. Roughing it with Kali: Braving Crocodiles, Relatives and the Bhadralok 109 VI. Sharing History with Tigers 146 VII. Unmasking the Cosmopolitan Tiger 176 VIII. Conclusion: Beneath the Masks, the Human Face of the Sundarbans 203 Afterword 213 Glossary of Selected Terms and Acronyms 220 Bibliography 225 Aout the Author 241 Index
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... al., 2020;Barua, 2014;de Silva and Srinivasan, 2019;Doubleday, 2020;Lorimer, 2010). Critical race, feminist, postcolonial, posthuman, Indigenous and Dalit scholars regret that these histories and 'parallel genealogies' (Jackson, 2013: 670) of thought in the Global South that unsettle hierarchical human-animal relationships were erased by western imperialism, Eurocentrism, caste privilege and neoliberal development narratives (Chen, 2012;de Silva and Srinivasan, 2019;Jalais, 2011;Sharma, 2017). This article responds to this erasure by centering subaltern worlds inhabited by Dalits, Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), Muslims and Christians in the Sundarbans, a transboundary environmental commons and major climatic hotspot in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta of India and Bangladesh that is home to the national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger. ...
... The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world, a UNESCO heritage listed biosphere reserve, Ramsar wetland as well as transboundary environmental commons in India and Bangladesh that nourishes multispecies worlds. The endangered Royal Bengal Tiger inhabits this 'largest remaining natural habitat' (Jalais, 2011: 2) marketed as 'Tigerland' by tourist operators, resort owners and national governments keen to lure domestic and international tourists. This watery commons is shared with wading migratory birds, pelicans, the Oliver Ridley Turtle, the Gangetic Dolphin, the Irrawaddy Dolphin, River Terrapin (Batagur baska), langurs, otters, civets and the saltwater crocodile who face the Sixth Mass Extinction event, but lack the charisma of the tiger who symbolises national pride. ...
... International non-government organisations (INGOs) and nation states take pride in coordinating tiger conservation programs and highlight the 'problem' of climate change in the largest mangrove delta in the world, but they rarely focus on everyday effects such as increasing salinity that affects the availability of fresh drinking water crucial for tiger and human survival. Instead, conservation programs using a linear trajectory of cause-and-effect interactions, invert species hierarchies and reduce local residents to second-class citizens (Barua, 2014;Jalais, 2011;NTCA, 2020). ...
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This article adopts a place-based approach to explore tiger atmospheres in the Sundarbans, a trans-boundary environmental commons and major climatic hotspot in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta of India and Bangladesh. We argue that affective intensities of greed (lobh), fear (bhaya), respect (srodhya), trust (biswas) and empathy (karuna) sensed by the tiger subject contribute to novel theoretical as well as empirical insights into co-belonging and intersectional multispecies justice. We explore these animal atmospheres through multi-sited ethnographic research that include embodied observations, photographs, 31 in-depth interviews and focus groups with impoverished as well as racialised low-caste Hindus (Dalits/Scheduled Castes), Adivasis (Indigenous peoples) and Muslim forest dwellers in India and Bangladesh. This attention to more-than-human geographies, animal atmospheres and subaltern stories situated in the Bengal delta unsettles macro-narratives of forest conservation and wildlife management that reduce animals to passive subjects or alternatively make them killable.
... I seek to build on this scholarship that has highlighted particular colonial entanglements of human and animal histories that continue in post-colonial conservation in India by highlighting the subversive ferality of relocated tigers and not-yet relocated villagers found in moments of disjuncture (cf. Govindarajan 2018;Jalais 2010;Mathur 2015). ...
... It is not to say that somehow forest-dependent villagers have 'gone wild' nor that radio-collared tigers are not truly 'wild animals'. Instead, recognising ferality as a subversive force illuminates the entanglement of human and animal histories through conservation (Govindarajan 2018;Jalais 2010;Mathur 2015) and foregrounds resistance against colonial and postcolonial state interventions that have sought and seek to control both. ...
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This article will examine state intervention in the lives of tigers and people living in and around Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. It explores how, over a decade after a reintroduction project rebuilt the tiger population from extinction and the central government launched a new compensation scheme to relocate villagers away from the national park, relocated tigers and not-yet relocated villagers resist and challenge conservation interventions to eradicate human life in Panna Tiger Reserve and (re)construct it as a wild tiger landscape. It will show how discourses of conservation and development that motivate state intervention seek to depoliticize and obfuscate programmes of control over human and tiger lives through their separation and purported ‘care’, contiguous with colonial policies and discursive practices that have intertwined the fate of wild animals and forest-dependent villagers in this part of India. In their feral subversions against these interventions, relocated tigers and not-yet relocated villagers expose the problematic contradictions and tensions that plague animal management, wildlife conservation, and rural development in India today. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, the article draws on case studies and accounts from communities living around Panna Tiger Reserve to present alternatives to colonial and post-colonial discursive legitimizations of state intervention and control, revealing alternate understandings of the entanglement of humans and animals and the categories of ‘wild’ and ‘tame’.
... Apart from the factors mentioned earlier, these portions (except Kolkata, Howrah, and South-24 Pargana districts) are also less affected by urbanization (Mandal et al., 2019;Paul & Chatterjee, 2012) and environmental pollution (Bhattacharya et al., 2012(Bhattacharya et al., , 2019Dutta & Gupta, 2021). On the other hand, Kolkata, Haora, and South-24 Pargana have comparatively uniform topography and many tourist sites (Jalais, 2014;Jana, 2012). Mangrove forests are another noteworthy aspect in these locations (Mandal et al., 2013;Rai, 2019). ...
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... The study has been conducted in the Chawrgheri area of the Lahiripur and Tipligheri, part of Rajatjubli village under Lahiripur village panchayat. Tipligheri is inhabited mostly by indigenous people who It has been found out that among the most vulnerable population of Sundarbans, which consist of only 8.6% population of Sundarbans and are most vulnerable as they are mostly fringe dwellers, extremely impoverished, land less and their dependency on forest is maximum (Jalais, 2014) Sampling method: ...
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Ground level survey along with key informant Interviews has resulted in to identification of two rookeries and several habitat of the mangrove Horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) in Satjelia-Lahiripur Island under Gosaba block. This is the first confirmed HSC habitat and rookeries which have been identified from the eastern side of Bidyadhari and areas around project tiger areas. Three pairs of live HSC and forty-five (45) carcasses have been found. The identified location is the lowest point of human inhabited islands in eastern part of river Matla. Key Informant Interview by Snowball sampling or chain-referral sampling method revealed that that the HSC are sighted throughout the year while the pick time of sighting may be March-June in the estuary. The study has found out that HSCs entangle regularly in the galsha or the gillnet and Chawrpata and Khalpata (Shore stake nets and channel stake nets) while the juveniles have been mostly affected by the Chawrpata (shore stakes nets) in which they entangle themselves with receding waters and both desiccate to die in profuse numbers in low tide exposures. The females were found to be morphometrically larger than the males. Higher numbers of female HSC are found to be entangling in fishing nets in the breeding season due to their higher numbers is a matter of great concern. While the local population has reported about the coexistence of this species from time immemorial but progressive accretion and generation of new mud flats suitable as breeding beaches of mangrove horse shoe crabs in contrast to the rookeries of the species in western Indian Sundarbans in Sagar Island and Namkhana which are going through steady phases of erosion at present, might definitely be played some role towards this activities. Extensive awareness, restriction in use of certain fishing gears in breeding and nursery time of HSC by declaring certain areas as community eco sensitive zones with feasible fiscal alternatives are being recommended as immediate conservation action to save the species.
... Interactions commonly labeled as "human-wildlife conflict, " i.e., instances where wildlife presence and/or actions impact negatively on human interests, dominate the conservation science literature on human-wildlife interactions (Hill, 2017;. However, interactions between people and wildlife are much more varied and complex than this, as exemplified in various ethnographic works including the study of people-tiger relations in the Sundarbans, West Bengal (Jalais, 2010), people-wildlife relations in Japan (Knight, 2003) and people-badger relations in the UK (Cassidy, 2019). There is increasing concern within the conservation community that the continued focus on conflict narratives risks making this the primary, or even the only, way of conceptualizing interactions between people and wildlife within this field. ...
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) Understanding Human–Canid Conflict and Coexistence: Socioeconomic Correlates Underlying Local Attitude and Support Toward the Endangered Dhole (Cuon alpinus) in Bhutan.
... Apart from the factors mentioned earlier, these portions (except Kolkata, Howrah, and South-24 Pargana districts) are also less affected by urbanization (Mandal et al., 2019;Paul & Chatterjee, 2012) and environmental pollution (Bhattacharya et al., 2012(Bhattacharya et al., , 2019Dutta & Gupta, 2021). On the other hand, Kolkata, Haora, and South-24 Pargana have comparatively uniform topography and many tourist sites (Jalais, 2014;Jana, 2012). Mangrove forests are another noteworthy aspect in these locations (Mandal et al., 2013;Rai, 2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
Green tourism is an emerging sustainable approach that needs to be implemented to manage environmental pollution in a particular region. Although the Gangetic West Bengal (GWB) is full of green tourism potential, the green tourism potentiality in this region has not been revealed yet. Therefore, the present research is focused on the delineation of the green tourism potential zone of the GWB using the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) and weighted sum techniques. The whole methodology has been implemented here through a straightforward, concise, and multistep (5-steps) process, which removes the entanglement and intricacy of the traditional AHP technique. At the first step, nine thematic layers are prepared. In the second step, pair-wise comparison matrices are formed following the principle of eigenvector. All thematic layers are reclassified at the third stage, and priorities are assigned to each class. The weighted sum procedure is utilized in the fourth stage to get the green tourism potential map, and the consistency ratio is also checked. Finally, the green tourism potential map is classified into high, moderate, and low categories using natural breaks. About 23.753% area of the GWB is identified as the high green tourism potential zone. The 12.691% area is identified as the low green tourism potential zone, and the rest (63.555% area) are recognized as the moderate green tourism potential zone. Further, the green tourism potential map is validated using the correlation coefficient (R²) determined by the district-wise availability (percentage share) of green tourist spots and the concomitant pixel count (percentage share) of the green tourism potential zone. A high R² value (R² ~ 84.5%) is obtained here, and therefore, the green tourism potential map portrayed in this research can be utilized further without hesitation. The methodology used here is generous, logical, unique, and easy to implement in any region.
... Besides economic benefits, religious and cultural values have been reported to enhance willingness among rural communities to coexist with wildlife (Dickman, 2010;Kansky & Knight, 2014;Karanth & Kudalkar, 2017). For instance, the representation of the Bengal tiger as a tiger-god in the Sundarban delta (Jalais, 2010), the elephant as an incarnation of Lord Ganesha in the Indian subcontinent (Choudhury, 2004), or the role of Buddhist monasteries in snow leopard (Panthera uncia) conservation (Bhatia et al., 2017) highlight cultural reverence towards such species. Other factors such as educational level (Martín-López et al., 2007), history of wildlife damage, and age (Kansky & Knight, 2014) have proven significant factors in building tolerance towards wildlife, highlighting a need to fuse the cultural landscape with the natural one into a modified conservation model (Walter & Hamilton, 2014). ...
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Sundarbans region has its own unique physiographical, ecological, economical and socio-cultural individuality. As a home of nearly nine million people the entire Sundarbans area has emerged as one of the poorest and malnourished region of the South-east Asia. Man-tiger conflict or tiger attacks in riverside settlements around the Sundarbans Reserve Forest in West Bengal, India are a continuous matter of concern. The principal objective of this research is to identify the reasons behind the increasing human-tiger conflict in Indian Sundarbans. Landsat-8 satellite image (path = 138, row = 45, 30m spatial resolution and eleven spectral bands) has been used to identify the high possible areas of Man-Tiger conflict within the SBR region. The survey involved 100 respondents selected from Gosaba, Kultali, Basanti and Mathurapur II CD blocks in which 85 respondents aged 50 and above were actively participated in the perceptional survey process. Result showed that major proportion of the Sundarbans people is traditionally dependent on forest resources for maintenance of their livelihood. Research identified the principal factors which have been responsible for increasing man-tiger conflict in Sundarbans such as degeneration of forests, habitat loss due to flood and sea level rise, encroachment into wildlife territories for economic activities, intrusion into human settlements for scarcity of wild pray in forest. Deulbari, Dongajora, Bhuvaneswari are the areas of human-tiger conflicts due to closeness with nearest buffer forest area. The adjoining rivers of these two villages Melmel and Gomor are highly vulnerable due to its proximity of reserve forest.
Chapter
The relationship between women and nature is powerful. Through various legends and folktales, women have been projected as the goddesses who would save the forests as well as save the world from overconsumption and greed. The focus of this chapter is one of the popular legends of India, the legend of Bonbibi in Amitav Ghosh's Jungle Nama. Bonbibi is widely worshipped by the people of the Sundarbans, which has been mentioned by Ghosh in his novel The Hungry Tide. But the primary focus of Jungle Nama is on the three central characters, Dukhey, Dhona, and Dokkhin Rai, and how Bonbibi comes as a saviour of the young boy, Dukhey, and thus becomes the preserver of the natural order. On the other hand, Manasa, the snake goddess can also be portrayed as someone who maintains a balance between life and death, avarice and generosity, as well as good and evil. The chapter intends to critically study Ghosh's retelling of the Bonbibi legend through an ecofeminist lens and also includes the story of Manasa to substantiate the interconnections between women and nature.
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The Sundarbans, spread across 10,200 sq. km in the lower deltaic region of Bengal, is the world's largest pro-grading delta. Most climatologists acknowledge that this fragile ecosystem, cutting across Bangladesh and India, will bear the brunt of climate change. It is estimated that the region, facing sea level rise and intensification of cyclonic activities, will experience the disastrous effects of global warming; and scientists have been expressing their concerns about the viability of human settlements there in the foreseeable future. In India, some researchers have floated the idea of 'Managed Retreat' of people from certain areas of the deltaic floodplains in a bid to 'conserve the mangroves and the ecosystem' of the Sundarbans. This postulation, first published as the Delta Vision: 2050 for the World-Wide-Fund for Nature India (WWF-India) in 2011, and discussed in the following years, in various platforms and research journals, has been advocating a 'phased and systematic outmigration' (Ghosh 2012) from the region, citing the 'Dutch Room for River' project as an exemplary ideal to be mirrored. This article will try to unpack the impact of this proposal on the local communities, living in tandem with the deltaic landscape for generations, if such a strategy is adopted.
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