Lecture | Forest becomes frontline: Conservation and Counter-Insurgency in a space of violent conflict in Assam, Northeast India | By Anwesha Dutta

| May 20th 12:00 – 13:00 | Leeuwenborch C62

Using the case of the Ecological Task Force (ETF) of the Indian Army as an entry point, I expand on existing conceptual and theoretical views on green militarization and violent environments in the context of poaching and national parks. I situate this within the broader literature on critical conservation and militarized conservation practices and apply it to the reserved forests in the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) in Assam, northeast India. Here, politics that surround conservation is immersed within a context of violent ethno-religious conflict. The BTAD has been a theatre of recurrent insurgencies between the autochthonous Bodo tribe and the Adivasi, Muslim groups over territory. A key characteristic of the conflict is its occurrence in the Reserved Forests (RFs) on the Assam-Bhutan borderlands, which can be traced back to the colonial process of forest making that brought immigrants into Assam, threatening cultural and territorial loss for Bodos. During the Bodo movement for a separate state, starting in 1980s and continuing, the militants operated from within the forest, leading to the departure of the forest department. As a result, rebels and locals appropriated the forest through rampant resource extraction. In response, the ETF was constituted in 2007. Fieldwork suggests that ETF is not engaged in counter-insurgency, and rely on the regular Army for protection during conservation operations. Drawing on regional environmental history, I analyze how ethno-religious conflict influences modes of conservation exemplified by continuing inter-institutional competition between the forest department and the ETF. I further argue that at the end it is counter-insurgency that prevails over conservation in the RFs. Moreover, despite ETF’s efforts to buffer from local politics, incidents of a political nature seep into its operations, e.g. ambushed by militants during conservation activities.

Anwesha Dutta

Anwesha Dutta is a Post-Doctoral researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway. She has a PhD in Conflict and Development Studies from Ghent University, Belgium. Her research has focused on political ecology of resource extraction, conservation and livelihoods in the reserved forests on the India-Bhutan borderlands in Assam, Northeast India. Broadly, she focuses on natural resources and environment using political economy and ecology approaches to forestry sector and extractive industries in South Asia.

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