I documented narratives of relocation among local communities and the Forest Department in and around the Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. India is home to the largest remaining wild population of tigers, admittedly in fragmented habitats, and a centerpiece of India’s tiger conservation strategy remains the creation of inviolate areas through relocation of local communities that live in the designated “core” areas of Tiger Reserves.
Ever since the 1970s, when Project Tiger (now the National Tiger Conservation Authority) and the first Tiger Reserves were established, there have been various attempts at relocation. Kanha was one of the first Tiger Reserves to be established in India, and between the late 1960s and early 1990s, 28 forest villages were relocated from inside the Reserve to outside of it, or to its peripheries. Today, there are 17 forest villages in core area of Kanha Tiger Reserve, of which priority has been given to relocating 7 forest villages that lie deep inside the Reserve, while 10 remaining villages that lie close to the “buffer zone” may get permanently included in the buffer and eventually become “revenue villages”.
The concept of people relocation remains controversial because its effects on the communities are not viewed favourably (refer for instance, Lasgorceix and Kothari ). Given this history, narratives of relocation will continue to influence the communities’ engagement with the Forest Department in the months and years to come. Through semi-structured conversations with people from 11 villages in and around the Reserve, I attempted to understand the following issues: their perception of historical relocations; their relationship with the Park/forests and the Forest Department; their livelihoods (particularly agriculture and forest products) and man-animal conflict (crop raids, poaching, human kills, deliberate fires); and their access to services (education, health).