In the Name of the Tiger: Narrative Analysis on Conservation and Indigenous Forest Rights in India



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India’s forests are home to half of the world’s tiger population and to millions of people. While conservationists clamor for reserves for the endangered Bengal tiger, forest people oppose any attempts to displace them from their homes. Most of these people identify as “indigenous” and rely on forest resources for their livelihood. For 200 years, the Indian state has tried to prevent them from accessing forests, claiming they degrade ecosystems and threaten wildlife. In contrast, indigenous activists and their allies in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claim that indigenous people are the legitimate protectors of tigers who have been dispossessed by a corrupt state. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 recognized, for the first time, the rights of forest dwellers. It allows indigenous people to claim communal and individual rights to farm, graze animals, and harvest non-timber resources in government-owned forests. But the Forest Rights Act has been implemented unevenly and is frequently violated, especially in tiger reserves. Government officials continue to harass indigenous people and evict them, treating tigers as a uniquely endangered species whose protection precludes the rights guaranteed to people under the Forest Rights Act. Most decisions about resource control depend on what narratives officials believe are true. Narratives provide simplified accounts of complex environmental interactions. They unfold in storybook form, with a beginning, a central problem, and a suggested solution. In India, where the national government operates in English and Hindi, the stories that English-language popular media and NGOs publish about tiger conservation influence how policy makers implement laws. I will present an analysis of narratives in 50 samples from newspapers, magazines, NGOs and indigenous people’s organizations, specifically focusing on: What stories are people telling about tiger conservation and indigenous people? How do these stories explain tiger decline? How do they describe indigenous people? I will also discuss the implications of these narratives and how they fit into the political context of tiger conservation.



conservation, indigenous people, forest, tiger, community forestry, narrative, indigenous, resource rights, rights, Forest Rights Act, tiger conservation, indigenous rights, narrative analysis