This thesis is an inter-paradigmatic exchange between political ecology and post-structuralist interpretations of actor-structure relationships. The study is founded on multiple discourses where different interpretations of a particular phenomenon by various actors have been analysed. The thesis is meant to show that relationships between society and nature are dynamic, entail multi-sited struggles among many actors at several terrains and are deeply rooted in earlier history.The study transpires that the forest is shaped by a loosely knit network of actors that are linked together by a kaleidoscope of rights, claims and social relationships which seem to determine the fate of the forest in a village.
Chapter 2 elaborates the theoretical foundation and methodological trajectory of this thesis. The concept of arena is central and analytically useful for this study as it connotes and involves social actors, their social relationships, practices and struggles between them. The notion of social arena is a metaphor for the site or place where action takes place between social actors. These places are not limited by geographical, natural or administrative borders. Arenas are social locations in which contests over issues, resources, values and representations take place. These are either spaces in which contestation associated with different practices and values of different domains takes place; or they are spaces within a single domain where attempts are made to resolve discrepancies in value interpretation and incompatibilities between actor interests. I argue that the forest as a social arena stretches beyond its natural and physical borders.The arena as the site of the struggle is not just geographically confined within natural (e.g. forest) and/or administrative (e.g. political) boundaries but it stretches beyond the locality. These arenas are diverse, they overlap and co-exist, and the boundaries at a given time are defined by networks of relationships between forest users and consumers, relationships between the State, bureaucrats, forest owners, dwellers, and so on.
Chapter 3 gives a detailed account of history of Haripur and how forests were legally categorised and distributed. History helps understand the political alliances and the power struggles in the region, the district, and (sub district) Khanpur. The State, during British rule introduced a new management regime for natural resources which changed the entire social landscape of Khanpur by attaching private property rights to the trees as well as forest lands in the region. The government authorities, notably the Forest department have most often seen forest dwellers destructive for the forest, depleting its resources and interfering with nature. This premise lays foundation of mistrust between people and the government. Contrary to this, the initiatives to introduce people in forestry governance are based on the realisation that the ownership, or at least management control over forests, is critical to responsible management by the people.
Chapter 4 provides a detailed account of how the Forest department operates in relation to people and forest resources. There are multiple scales of articulation, alliances and struggles within and around the department and these positions are changeable from time to time with several internal and external factors. The case of Forest department manifests that the State is to be seen as a multifaceted organ and not as an individual actor. Structural changes were introduced in the department but the core on which the foundation of the department was laid, was never changed. Many women firmly believe that the department must continue to use authority to control local people who cause degradation. Each reform initiative taken in the name of participation ended up with basically continuing the same centralised system. Forests were never handed over to the community along with management responsibility (e.g. Guzara forests). Only joint management of forests was enacted – yet not implemented. Trust remained a major issue in all these struggles.
The subject of forest fire, which I perceive and have experienced as a strong manifestation of resistance and also as a tool to manipulate natural resources, has been dealt with in different places in this thesis, but particularly in Chapter 5. Burning forests is an old practice for clearing land for agriculture.Fire therefore had a significant role in defining farmers’ territories. Gradually these practices changed but grazers continued to light up forests to produce lush green grass for their livestock. This led to a persistent discourse based on appropriating every fire incident to the grazers’ practices. This study highlights that fire is now increasingly used as a management tool for manipulating the resource. Firewood collectors and big owners use fire for obtaining dry firewood or build the case for felling dead / dry trees which is allowed in the policy after ban on green felling. Even if fires may occur due to the will of the forest owner, the policy blindly holds grazersresponsible for their wasteful and damaging practices. The collectors of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), mostly women, are not happy with fire since their resources are burnt down due to the productive fire requirement of Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii). There is an incline in the graph of forest fires, decreasing self initiative among people to control fires, along with the Forest department’s management bias towards Chir pine trees in fire control operations; these concerns echo in various voices from the field. The chapter also highlights a form of connivance between the owner and the occupants of lands (peasants / tenants) and also the owners and Forest department staff.
Chapters 6 deals with actors in their struggle to secure their rights to the forest through acquiring forest land title deeds. This initiative from the side of the new owners can be understood as a response to what is explained in Chapter 5. No forests have been handed over with management responsibilities to non owner forest users in nearly one and a half centuries. Non owners have resorted to buying forest lands in little parcels in creating private forests. This way, new meanings are given to the forest and new spaces are created through tactical networking among various actors. Field evidence and opinions from several actors suggest that Reserved forests are frequently being accessed by people for their needs in a de facto manner. Several new owners have acquired land entitlement comprising small pieces of lands which do not have a huge timber value in future. Followed by this, it is also visible that the nature of power in the contemporary society of Khanpur (and beyond) is changing. Power, which was once measured through landholding, is now measured through other symbols, such as political connectivity and affiliation.
Regular access to NTFP by non-right holders for the sake of earning an income (Chapter 7) is an illustration of their struggle, or more strongly put, an in-between expression of resistance. Poor women remain invisible in their daily practice to access NTFPs. They use spaces that are considered undesirable by other forest actors. These spaces cannot be completely separated within the social arena, but they are knitted into the day to day practices of people. State intrusion into women’s customary and de facto practices concerns them. They fear that this will only reduce their chances of earning a modest livelihood from the forest. However, the women are also highly creative in reshaping their practices and relationships with every change that takes place around them. Firewood collection is the most visible, uninterrupted and non-compromising activity for women. In their daily struggle to feed the family, they virtually manage and control the forest. Contrary to this, women are not part of any dialogue on forestry reform. They need to be part of the negotiation process in which their spaces remain secure. The most important challenge is to create the mechanisms for discussion, negotiation, and arbitration of gendered access regimes under a variety of circumstances.