Situating Conserving Communities in their Place: Political Economy of Kullu Devban

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"The contemporary dynamics of two neighboring Kullu devban (sacred groves) are analysed in this article. One of these devban is a model of community conservation based on indigenous belief system and management practices. The other suffered the opposite fate and was harvested in the last decade. While this latter devban is a challenge to simple models that view sacred groves as archetypical institutions of community conservation, the presence of the former shows that straightforward critiques of community-based conservation present only a partial picture. An ethnographic study of two taken locally, the key influences determining their changing and diverse fate emanate from spheres of property regimes, state policy and an environmental discourse that originate beyond the local community. The pre-colonial communal property of Kullu devta's was transformed into private property in colonial records. The environmentalist turn in state, donor agency and NGO policies and discourse, and recent institutions of self governance and resource management that attempt to recreate community play an important role in devban dynamics. While the micro-political analysis of devban reveals fault-lines in the world of social actors whose actions directly impinge on devban, an understanding of current trends influencing them requires a macro-political economic perspective. The political economy of Kullu devban is complex, dynamic and under-determined, and due to all these characters it permits diverse outcomes on the ground."
conservation, community development, citizen participatory management, political economy