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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 236-247

Everyday Forest Rights: Claiming Territories and Pastoral Livelihoods in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India

1 Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin, USA; and Département d'anthropologie de l'Université Laval, Québec City, Canada
2 Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK

Correspondence Address:
Pierre-Alexandre Paquet
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin, USA; and Département d'anthropologie de l'Université Laval, Québec City

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Source of Support: The research on which this paper is based was approved by the institutional ethics review boards of both authors. Prior informed consent was obtained from participants prior to recording interviews. The primary data is stored safely by the authors., Conflict of Interest: The authors have no other financial or non-financial conflict of interests to disclose.

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_20_123

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This article explores the multiple processes of maintaining access and asserting user rights to forest space among the Van Gujjar pastoralists in North India. In particular, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA) has created an opportunity for forest dwellers across India to seek legal means to forest rights. Conducting ethnographic fieldwork, organising workshops on forest rights, and mapping traditional territories among the Van Gujjars, we observed that complex cultural performances are necessary for the Van Gujjars to claim access to forest areas and resources—legal or otherwise. These performances include, but are not limited to, litigation, supporting emergent leaders, and caring for cattle and kin under constant threats of evictions. Drawing on recent scholarship on the everyday formation of territorial governments, we examine how communities maintain, contest, or reinvent cultural practices and governance in the context of their struggles for access inscribed as forest rights. In contrasting cases among two groups of Van Gujjars seeking rights to forest spaces in the two neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, we shed light on the repercussions that formally or informally engaging the FRA can have for communities of forest dwellers. Based on ethnographic research completed between 2012 and 2019, we find that 1) the Van Gujjar territorial governments carrying on these claims are more diverse than the law recognises, and that 2) not all communities see it worthy to organise a territorial government claiming formal rights under the FRA. Fundamentally, we discern that more immediate threats to Van Gujjar livelihoods result in a greater shift in their cultural practices towards organising a territorial government seeking forest rights through the FRA.

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