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Unruly Hills examines the intersection of environmental and ethnic politics in the Indian state of Meghalaya. Based on extensive fieldwork, the author traces the entanglements of forest management, mining and territorial conflicts with local demands for indigenous sovereignty and rebellious aspirations for ethnic homelands. Massive extractions of limestone; controversies over uranium deposits; and the Supreme Court ban on logging apply to the cases specifically explored.
The book will be of interest to students of anthropology, political ecology and environmental history as well as to those concerned with development and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Bengt G. Karlsson is Associate Professor in Social Anthropology at Stockholm University. His main research interests concern the politics of nature and identity, especially in relation to indigenous peoples’ movements in India. He is author of Contested Belonging: An Indigenous People’s Struggle for Forest and Identity in Sub-Himalayan Bengal (2000) and co-editor of Indigeneity in India (2006) with T.B. Subba.
1. Nature and Nation
2. Elusive Forests
3. Shifting Land Rights
4. Mining Matters
5. Indigenous Governance
6. Political Ecology at the Frontier
‘This wonderful ethnography of Meghalaya’s natural resource politics, of nature and nation, makes engrossing reading. Deforestation, mining, the drying up of rivers, climate change as well as insurgency and sovereignty are words that trip easily off policy makers’ tongues, but too often, they lack engagement with real life. Here is a book that brings flesh and passion to these issues showing what they mean to the people affected. Balancing multiple actors and institutions, from the Supreme Court of India which banned timber felling in the Northeast to the Khasi Student’s Union which is protesting against uranium mining to ordinary men and women who recount myths about their sacred hills, this volume fills a critical gap in the environmental history and ethnography of both Northeast India and the current moment of resource management.’
Nandini Sundar, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University
‘Unruly Hills is one of the most original and provocative books on environment and politics in India. Communities supposedly control most land, forests and other natural resources in the hills of Northeast India. However capitalist transformations have rendered the hill communities quite powerless: they are hardly able to control the local resource base. Behind the legal fictions of community ownership lies the ugly reality of a ‘resource frontier’ where there is massive privatization and accumulation of land by local elites and serious environmental degradation as the result of the crude exploitation of forests, water, and mineral resources. Karlsson’s book brims with fresh insights on the crisis of legitimacy of India’s democratic institutions in this border region.’
Sanjib Baruah, Bard College, New York and Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi