People and tigers : an anthropological study of the Sundarbans of West Bengal, India
This thesis examines how Sundarbans islanders living in the southern reclaimed islands of the Bengal delta both think about and 'interact with' the man-eating tigers of the region. The thesis classifies three broad occupational groups - forest workers, prawn collectors, and landowners - and discusses how they use different understandings of the tiger to draw distinctions between each other. It argues that the islanders' interactions with tigers articulate both social practices and understandings of the social, and that attitudes to the forest/land opposition divide people into the distinct groups of bhadralok and gramer lok. These interactions are discussed in connection with people's relation to their environment. The environment is understood both as a set of narratives - about humans and tigers sharing a cantankerous nature because of a harsh geography and of a common history of displacement - and as a practical experience - of working in the forest as crab, fish or honey collectors, especially by opposition to landowning cultivators. The thesis also looks at environmentalists' perceptions of the Sundarbans as 'tiger-land' and the repercussions of such an image on state policies for the region's people. This is undertaken through a discussion of how the portrayal of the Sundarbans as a wildlife area means that the Sundarbans inhabitants' demand for a more equal allocation of resources between them and tigers is not seen as legitimate by outsiders. Thus this thesis, by engaging with the Sundarbans islanders' narratives and daily experiences of living 'alongside tigers', addresses the Sundarbans islanders' social relations as well as ideas of the social not just in relation to themselves and each other, but also in relation to their position as a 'collective' and their place in the realm of the politics of global conservation.