Rural Informalities and Forest Squatters in the Reserved Forests of Assam, India

Author: Anwesha Dutta

Abstract:

It has now been well established that forests in South Asia are postcolonial political zones. In Assam, in northeast India this was accomplished through the colonial project of converting jungles into Reserved Forests. Using the politics of dokhol ("to grab or occupy by force") as an entry point, this article examines the comparative epistemologies of squatting and informality in urban and rural contexts. My intent is to unpack the everyday practice, maintenance, and sustenance of dokhol within the reserved forests of Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD). This entails an extension of existing scholarship on formal-informal dichotomies in relation to rural squatters, in particular those on forestland. I do so by combining an ethnographic study of dokhol by rural squatters with three influential strands of critical scholarship on urban squatting, namely Partha Chatterjee's "political society," Asaf Bayat's "quiet encroachment," and Ananya Roy's take on planning and deregulation. This article advances the case of rural informalities and opens a dialogue between the two forms of informalities – rural and urban, especially in the context of South Asia.


Regions: South Asia
Countries: India
Topics: Environment

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September 2018
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