Preface and Acknowledgments
When I was conducting field research for an earlier book on migrant
shepherds in Rajasthan in western India, the headman of one of the
villages where the shepherds lived told me, ‘‘The grazing common
(oran) in the village is in a bad shape. Animals have eaten all the grass,
villagers have burned all the trees [as firewood]. . . . The government
works so hard to improve our country’s forests. Isn’t it also our duty to
contribute, even if it means some sacrifice?’’ These high-sounding senti-
ments seemed on the mark since reports about declining vegetation and
advancing desert were current in the media. But I found it hard to accept
his statement at face value. He was defending the village council’s en-
closure of the village common. The ostensible reason, he claimed, was
environmental protection. But the enclosure had another, unacknowl-
edged e√ect as well. It reduced the fodder available to shepherds in the
village and forced many to migrate over longer distances. Because of
their absence from the village, they became less likely to contest local
elections or seek a share in the development funds that the village
council disbursed. Landowners, of whom the headman was one, had
initiated the move for enclosure and won this particular battle. The
action his words defended were so clearly against the interests of the
shepherds, and the words fitted so intimately with prevailing interna-
tional and national narratives of environmental decline and loss, that I
could not credit what he said. I found myself discounting his argument
that a desire for environmental protection had played at least the main
role in the enclosure of the common. Today, after completing this re-
search on forest protection by villagers in Kumaon in North India, I
wonder if I was too hasty.
My formal research in Kumaon began only in 1989 when I went there
to find out more about local forms of control and regulation over for-
ests. But I had visited earlier. My first visit, in the summer of 1985,
revolved around an interest in Chipko, the internationally known
movement to conserve the forests of western Himalaya. I met and spent
a week each with two charismatic leaders of Chipko: Sundar Lal Bahu-
guna and Chandi Prasad Bhat. But these meetings did not provoke in
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