ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Multiple Meanings of Nature Conservation

Insights from Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

With increasing concerns about the degradation of forests threatening the existence of wildlife, conservation projects are seen as the need of the hour. However, conservation as a concept is often understood differently by the local community, the scientific community, and the state. A critical examination of the ongoing efforts for tiger conservation in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, exposes the fault lines in the narrative of nature conservation as the state imposes its agenda through the establishment of sanctuaries and reserves, without considering the needs of the local Mishmi tribe and excluding their traditional conservation practices.

Nature conservation is a challenge and steps taken towards it can often give rise to other issues. This is true especially in countries like India where a large part of the population is still dependent on natural resources for its immediate needs. Conservation efforts have given rise to conflicts and misunderstandings between different sets of actors engaged in promoting conservation practices (Brosius et al 2005). Varying notions of nature and nature conservation, which often result in conflicts and tensions, arise from the contradictory ideas of “nature” as understood by the local people and conservation organisations (Cronon 1996a). Some actors have the power to create and disseminate their ideas of nature that differ from how others imagine nature (West et al 2006). Examples from across the globe show that local communities are often seen as a hindrance to conservation practices; therefore, excluding them is considered legitimate (Brockington 2002; Igoe 2004; Kabra 2009).

There is a large body of literature from the social science perspective that questions the exclusion of people in conservation, both in historical and contemporary situations (Gadgil and Guha 1995; Kabra 2009; Rangarajan 1996; Saberwal et al 2001). The aim of this article, first, is to highlight the different ways of perceiving and understanding nature and its conservation. Second, I will examine a case from Arunachal Pradesh to analyse how the local Mishmi tribe responds when the state demands more land for wildlife protection (specifically the protection of tigers). Conservation sites close to international borders such as Dibang Valley, where this research was conducted, raise questions pertaining to the issues of wildlife protection, national security and development, making nature conservation projects a very complex enterprise.

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Updated On : 1st Oct, 2018
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