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Photo Courtesy- The Hindu
Photo Courtesy- The Hindu

Capital is not equally shared; neither is nature. Our everyday life has become precarious, a life without stability. Spaces that we dwell in are increasingly questioned, mostly spaces that are home to the margins of the society. Such margins and spaces that they dwell in were for a long time considered ‘non-economic’ zones, which lacked interest of movements of national and global capital, of governments and corporations. Examples of such spaces in India’s North-east are border areas of various states, char-chapori areas or riverine settlements, wildlife parks, lands that were communally owned and ones that were never covered within any legal ambit. Such places illegible to state making have in the course of last 50-60 years come under severe contention from various quarters. The evection drive that is currently being carried out in Amchang, a wildlife sanctuary located to the east of Guwahati, is not an aberration. It should not come as a surprise; however, one needs to certainly demand the basic human rights for the 700odd families that were evicted in this process.

Amchang and Conservation discourse

The eviction drive in Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary has been carried out November 27 affecting over 700 families. The drive comprised of 1500 policemen, about 300 labourers, a dozen elephants and bulldozers that injured at least four people, as reported in local media. The eviction was carried out as per a Guwahati High Court order which declared areas in the sanctuary as an eco-sensitive zone (ECZ) in June, largely based on the report of the expert committee set up by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Located in the Kamrup district of Assam, Amchang was declared to be a sanctuary in 2004 which included three areas—the Amchang reserve forest, South Amchang forest reserve and Khanapara reserve forest.

When there is a violent recourse taken to by the state, like the case of Amchang, hearths and homes get uprooted. The various footages and reportages that are pouring in carrying very disturbing images of how the eviction is being carried out. The majority of the victims of this process belong to the Mishing community in Assam, a plains tribe in the state. Quite a few families belonging to the Bodo and Rabha community have also been affected by this eviction drive, among others. Reports suggest that these people were mostly rehabilitated victims of flood from places such as Majuli, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji and have been settled there for quite some time now. The question of eco-sensitive zone also came up near Kaziranga, but has been avoided till now due to collective resistance of the people there, notes Pranab Doley. Human Right defending organisations like Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha have faced tremendous opposition in Kaziranga in resisting the various moves by the forest department and the government that is carried out in the name of conservation.

Man and Nature

Amchang should not be viewed as a singular event. If we jog our memory, not too long ago similar illegal evictions were carried out in Bodoland, Kaziranga and Mayong. There have been a plethora of cases across the world, where people who have lived with nature are questioned of their right to dwell in such places. Even before places that came to be declared as wildlife areas, mining areas or sanctuaries, in most such cases than not, such places have been home to many people and a source of their livelihood. Char-chapori areas, which I categorise as char-scapes, have also been increasingly brought under question. The state or corporations often try to lure the displaced with hazardous jobs, be indifferent, even threaten them or execute them. Such questioning of right to live in a particular space has its own history. The genesis of such history is in the Enlightenment and western philosophy, which has a singular, grand and universal understanding of Man and Nature. Such an understanding separates Man from Nature. Moreover, in a post-war context, a mix of enlightenment morals and American model of development brought about a linear and singular idea of development and progress. In the process, it further alienated man from nature and destroyed all other forms of life-world and storytelling. Such a disposition of our governments and corporations undermines the fact that our worlds can and are shaped by varied languages, histories, ecologies and cultural traditions. People of Amchang are treated as the unnecessary weeds that grow in our backyard.

The so-called ‘wildlife’ areas are the backyard of the government, of the powerful and owners of capital and power, and the corporations. To borrow a phrase from Henry Lefebvre, such wildlife spaces have become spaces where one can see the orchestration of ‘production of spaces’. In such ‘production of spaces,’ one can see how social relations are performed, which are unequal in nature. One should extend the ‘right to the city’ debate, in terms of its commitment to human rights of the ‘right to dwell’, to such social margins both in urban and rural spaces.

Meanwhile, the state of Assam is busy clearing land for Patanjali which even involves an elephant corridor. The voices of protest from many quarters, such as Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) have been sidelined. Issues concerning the margins have hardly become an area of concern for powerful student and cultural bodies like All Assam Student Union and Assam Sahitya Sabha. Such issues concerning eviction, displacement have not shaken their moral compass. Such silence evidently brings out the caste and class nature of concern and commitment of such organization, as once noted by historian Amalendu Guha in speaking of Assam Movement.

The state and its various institutions in carrying our drives such as eviction in Kazirnaga and Mayong, display the ‘symbolic’ power of the state. Amchang echoes Max Weber’s notion of the state, for it is a performance of the fact that the state holds the monopoly in using violence and physical force, and yet remain a legitimate act. It also shows how the structure of power gets amplified in actions of the state. In the process, it shows us new limits of power and how violence can be naturalised in the name of conservation.

Suraj is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the National University of Singapore.

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