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H/W Interactions

My PhD research is derived from multi-year fieldwork in the Wayanad district of Kerala, a Southwestern state in India. Wayanad is part of the Western Ghats Mountain range, a global biodiversity hotspot and home to many Adivasi communities constituting 18.5 % of the total population. The Indigenous People of India are commonly referred to as Adivasis (translated in the Sanskrit language as Adi- First; Vasi- Inhabitant), constituting 104 million people with more than 700 ethnic groups forming the world's largest Indigenous population.

 

I work closely with Kattunayakan or Nayakan community living in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala (India). With less than 50 000 members, they form a primitive hunter-gathers tribal group in South Asia who speaks a Dravidian dialect (a combination of three Dravidian languages - Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada). Characterized by animistic belief systems, deep-rooted relationships with the local forest ecosystem, they believe they are the forest's true 'leaders.'

 

My research draws on Indigenous knowledge, ecology, relational ontologies and experiences to understand how human societies interact with land, fire, water, food and wildlife to adapt to Anthropocene. Using ethnographic research techniques, visual methods, maps and participatory methods, I attempt to amplify Indigenous voices on natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.

HUMAN-WILDLIFE INTERACTIONS

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As human-wildlife conflicts escalate worldwide, concepts such as tolerance and acceptance of wildlife are becoming increasingly important. Across the world, Indigenous People have a long-established history of living in nature, recognizing what interactions with wild animals mean and how to think of these as well beyond the realm of conflict. The project sheds light on how Kattunaykan, a hunter-forager Adivasi community living in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala (India), characterize human-wildlife interactions. 

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India (2019)

Photocredit: Jyothish

FS

FOREST SECURITY

Forests are central to the life of Adivasis in India, and they play a critical role in the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of these traditional societies. The study examines whether forest policies in India have accommodated the indigeneity-based ecosystem perspectives and knowledge. It provides empirical insights on characterization and perception of Kattunayakan identity and security derived from their interactions with the forest. This research informs future policy-making and societal investments to understand 'Forest security' to have Adivasi inclusive strategies in managing natural resources in India. 

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India (2019)

Photocredit: Helina Jolly

FF

FOREST FIRE

Flames

Adivasis (Indigenous people of India) practiced the seasonal burning of forests to manage their local ecosystems. The practice shaped the forest terrains of India and established a purposeful association between humans and fire. Fire facilitated their access and interactions with the ecosystem, which is crucial for their livelihood. Yet, perceived as a threat to wildlife and biodiversity, burning forests is legally banned, and fire remains a point of disagreement between forest managers and Indigenous people. Such inadequacies are more conspicuous and persistent in post-colonial regions where human dimensions of fire are decisively ignored from forest management discourses. The study examines Kattunayakan knowledge and relationships to forest fires.

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India (2019)

Photocredit: Helina Jolly

CM

CULTURESCAPE MAPPING

The longstanding association between Indigenous Peoples and forests has shaped and sustained the world's landscapes for centuries. The contemporary conservation literature has also begun to recognize these societies' roles in land management. Several progressive forest policies, for example, encourage Indigenous engagement but also face implementation challenges due to disrespectful or inadequate knowledge of Indigenous Peoples' interpretation of their natural world. This, in turn, tends to perpetuate colonial outlooks and misrepresents Indigenous relationships with the forest. This project focuses on Kattunayakan communities living within the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, India and how these hunter-foragers characterize their interactions with Kadu (Forest). It documents how Kattunayakans position their understanding of forest within the contemporary and dominant narratives of the 'forests' as a protected area and so human-evacuated space. 

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Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India (2019)

Photocredit: Helina Jolly

TEN

THE EVERYDAY NATURE

The Everyday Nature (TEN)  believes that each one of us has a story that carries a powerful message within.  Project TEN attempts to understand how people across the world perceive nature. Through the photographs and narrations, it intends to give a face and voice to nature and natural resources. In a world divided by race, caste, creed, gender this little project attempts to reclaim love, peace, and happiness of humanity by making people pause for a moment to answer ‘What does nature mean for you?’ Each one of us carries within us a small bit of nature, and The Everyday Nature would love to hear about that. Read more about this at www.theeverydaynature.com 

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