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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 : 271-281

Doing Chowkidaari: Vulnerability in Village-Forest Relations and the Compulsion of Forest Work

Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK

Correspondence Address:
Adam Runacres
Department of Anthropology, University College London, London
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_205_20

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This article explores the conditions and perceptions of daily wage work provided by the Forest Department around Panna Tiger Reserve in Central India. Drawing on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, it analyses the conditions of forest work within this context of livelihood prohibitions, the broader political economy of precarious labour, and village-forest relations in Panna district. Through different case studies, the article unpacks the dynamics of familiarity, negotiation and exploitation that characterise forest work, utilising forest workers' own description of their work to comment on how a confluence of vulnerable conditions compel local people to take up the precarious daily wage work offered by the Forest Department. The workers' descriptions also offer the concept of 'compulsion' as an important addition to interdisciplinary discussions about 'vulnerability.' I argue that forest workers are a missed opportunity for good relations between conservation projects and local communities, as actors who regularly manage the simultaneous demands of their village communities, and Forest Departments and navigate the complexity and nuance of the relationships between and within both. Rather than examples of conservation benefits for local communities, the poor conditions and insecurities of forest work lead to decreased support for conservation and worsen the reputation of the Forest Department in areas where gainful employment is desperately needed.

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