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Victims of Conservation or Rights as Forest Dwellers: Van Gujjar Pastoralists Between Contesting Codes of Law

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Gooch, Pernille
Journal: Conservation and Society
Volume: 7
Page(s): 239-248
Date: 2009
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/6076
Sector: Forestry
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): forest dwellers
forest management
property rights
Abstract: "The Van (forest) Gujjars, surviving as forest pastoralists in the central part of the Indian Himalaya, are a people who, due to their nomadic lifestyle, have since colonial rule found themselves at the margin of Indian society. This paper will look at the relationship between the Van Gujjars and their forest base in a historical perspective from colonial rule to ‘conservation of nature’ and the ‘rights of forest dwellers’ and further discuss how changing codes and rules of power affect the society–citizen–nature / forest relationship for the community. We will look back into history and see how a system of strict control and regulation of Van Gujjars as nomadic pastoralists without a fixed address, initiated during colonial time, was continued by the national state of India after independence. We will further discuss how a history of unequal treatment and marginalisation of Van Gujjar pastoralists has continued into the present. What is manifest here is ‘the forest’ as a contested space: a site of power struggles, where forest dwellers are threatened with displacement in order to provide space, first for modern forestry and revenue producing land, and later for conservation of nature. The paper further looks at the latest developments where the Van Gujjars now have obtained domicile rights such as voters’ rights and have been linked with Government services for education and health. It finishes by discussing the new possibilities and hopes for the community provided by the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act."

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