South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Reinventing the Boundary: Customary and State Forest Management as a Product of Land Disputes Between Van Gujjar Forest Dwellers in Saharanpur and Dehradun Districts

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

The Van Gujjars of the districts of Saharanpur and Dehradun are semi-nomadic pastoralists. An estimated 9,000 still reside within reserved forests on old permits initially issued by the Forest Department for a small annual fee. In the 1940s, British foresters randomly assigned Van Gujjars to individual compartments through a lottery; every one or two years, the Van Gujjars had to shift their dwellings from one compartment to another. This system, meant to distribute the impact of grazing and lopping across the whole forest division, was later abandoned. According to forest administrators, Van Gujjars successfully connived with forest guards to influence the result of the lottery, and, being nomads, they needed to become attached to the land. Nowadays, the Forest Department manages the permits only by permit holder names, whereas the Van Gujjars continue to enforce their boundaries. Disputes over these boundaries between neighbours and relatives are frequent. Panchayats (customary councils) can be called to settle these conflicts when they become violent. For its part, the Forest Department consistently fails at providing compartment maps. However, Van Gujjars do not unanimously follow panchayat decisions and coax and bribe the forest guards to take side against both panchayats and the forestry code. This presentation discusses how customary and state forest management not only coexist, but are subverted by Van Gujjars disputes, everyday interactions between the pastoralists and forest constables, and a property regime that, in spite of being a colonial legacy, has been many times reinvented.

Send Email for Pierre-Alexandre Paquet


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2 - Reinventing the Boundary: Customary and State Forest Management as a Product of Land Disputes Between Van Gujjar Forest Dwellers in Saharanpur and Dehradun Districts



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