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Conserving life: forest imaginaries and competing values in the Sundarbans forests of India

Mehtta, Megnaa (2019) Conserving life: forest imaginaries and competing values in the Sundarbans forests of India. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The Sundarbans mangrove forests which range across the border of India and Bangladesh are internationally famous as a protected habitat for the Royal Bengal tiger. Less well known are the Sundarbans’ 4.5 million people, many thousands of whom venture into the forests on a daily basis to earn a living collecting fish, crabs and honey. This thesis interrogates what conserving life means to the people living alongside a global conservation hotspot. It explores how the fishers themselves understand their relationship to the forest and its resources, which is based on a set of ethico-religious codes known as the “rules of the jungle” [jongoler niyam] and other overlapping values. I explore fishers’ notions of a sufficient life, what it means to sustain a household, and ultimately the kind of life they seek to conserve for themselves in relation to the surrounding landscape. This vision is under constant renegotiation. I trace how several forces, including increased surveillance by the Forest Department, recent campaigns by forest rights activists, and changing global supply chains variously challenge and reaffirm it. In doing so, I also explore how these forces, and the groups that direct them, make sense of, value, and construct competing visions of the forest. These groups, all with their own stake in the conservation of the region, are linked by a web of local politics that transcends the “tiger versus people” binary and which reveals unexpected fractures, accommodations, and alliances between them. By privileging the perspectives of the people most affected by conservation, I reconceive what it means to conserve life in the Sundarbans.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Megnaa Mehtta
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
S Agriculture > SD Forestry
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Shah, Alpa and James, Deborah

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