Through the looking glass of Bhils - How Markets win what the State has lost in the desert jungles of Western Rajasthan
Based on the author’s field work in western Rajasthan, this paper forwards the argument that the growing chasm between its promises and delivery has made the state lose its credibility among the Bhils of western Rajasthan in India. The interviews and observations are based on twelve weeks of participation in the daily life of multiple actors in desert jungles of Jodhpur and Bikaner western Rajasthan. The main motive was to understand various postures on hunting- as a community activity as well as a legal input behind certain modern state laws. Still waiting for basic amenities such as reliable supply of water and electricity, forest communities as Bhils also remain unhappy with the way the power politics amongst caste plays out to suppress their ascent into public offices. Many practices of the state remain out of bounds for them. In as far as evoking from the state a moral-functional response over its failings is concerned, Bhils see no light at the end of the day either. They substantiate this by pointing out that, perhaps, their demands, requirements and expectations from the state still remain pretty much the same as the promises in the inaugural election manifestos of parties post-independence.However, although they find it hard to reach the state, its reciprocal reach towards intervening in day to day lives of the communities remains much more than its own ability to deliver for them. This is evidenced by the helicopter visions emanating from changed hunting laws which in turn change the way Bhils view the state and society around them. While Bhils come to terms with or question these laws in India, the irony is that the hunting of the very species which stands declared as under threat stands hunted clandestinely on ground by all kinds of actors, despite a ‘jail without bail’ provision that presumably should up the ante for criminal activities such as poaching. In this context this paper talks of the world view of the Bhils over the issue in general, their dilemmas and emic perspectives in particular. It also brings to light the implications of conservation politics by other communities in the vicinity such as the Bishnois who wage collective struggles to ensure protection of endangered species, while the state remains distant and lags behind in its approach to answer the issues raised by the Bhils, newer market strategies and products gain a quick entry as well as growing relevance in the Bhil lifestyles.
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