Theses Doctoral

The Rule of Sanctuary: Security, Nature, and Norms in the Protected Forests of Kerala, South India

Gajula, Goutam

The aim of this dissertation is to understand how worries over nature’s degradation, ensuing securitization practices, and emergent norms intersect in environmental protected areas. It concerns the Nilgiri Biosphere in Kerala, South India, and how regimes of nature protection effect the lives of its human inhabitants, the Kurumba, a so-called primitive adivasi tribe. Combining ethnography with archival research, it asserts that the labors and logics of nature protection, present and past, participate in a distinctly liberal problematic of competing securities, manifest in the tension between sovereign discretions and the freedoms of legal rights and market interests. This study makes two overarching claims. First, that during the colonial era, nature’s inessential character allowed for flexibilities in legal interpretation that furthered imperial ambitions. In the silence of the law, norms mediated by colonialist pejoratives operated to satisfy those ambitions, while supplementing the knowledge necessary for government. Second, analysis of recent environmental movements and ecological projects surrounding the Nilgiri Biosphere shows how norms derived from civil society are produced to intervene between security prerogatives and social freedoms. The upshot of these normative practices, I argue, is to depoliticize natures and agencies, while extending and intensifying security’s command of unruly natures. While ensuring lives lived in accordance to it, this normativity endangers those who fall short of or otherwise elude it. To understand this endangerment, I provide an interpretation of adivasi resistances and rejections, in particular the Kurumba turn to illicit cultivation of ganja in the Biosphere’s core area. I contextualize this turn within the history of forest-adivasi relations, recent adivasi actions elsewhere within the Nilgiri Biosphere, and the global discourses of indigenous peoples and the environment. I argue that by operating not through a putative politics of rights and interest, but through counter-conducts and illegalities, the Kurumba present a challenge to the political as such.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Daniel, E. Valentine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015