Fuel, fodder, and forests: Politics of forest use and abuse in Uttarakhand Himalaya, India

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Snow Wadley


Cultural anthropology, Womens studies, Forestry, Geography, ecological change

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


This dissertation focusses on the forests of Uttarakhand, India as a terrain where local, regional, national, and international politics are mapped. By examining the multiple narratives of forest use and abuse, I discuss the complex politics of control and coercion, of subsistence and profit, and of resistance and reconciliation which are woven in and around forests. Even though the dissertation is about forests, it is not about forests alone but critically addresses the questions of unequal relations of power, of conflicting notions of gain, of gendered and caste-based nature of conflict, and of competing interpretations of history.

In this anthropological exploration of ecological change, I examine the multiple ways through which local men and women contest and consent to the hegemonic compulsions of the forest department. By presenting the narratives and counter-narratives of social and ecological change, I discuss how local people perceive of the transformations in their ecological landscape. What does 'environment crisis' mean to them? How do they imagine the contours of a modern society as they struggle to procure food, firewood and fodder? More specifically, how do women justify stealing wood from the government-owned reserved forest? The answers to these questions are mainly drawn from extensive fieldwork in a village in Uttarakhand Himalaya and from the interviews and discussions I had with village leaders, members of village Panchayat, environmental activists, and journalists.

By discussing the environmental discourse in colonial and independent India, I argue that the environmental historiography is dominated by a focus on the colonial period that undermines the continuity and connections which exist between colonial and pre-colonial periods. The legacy of this interpretation informs the contemporary environmental discourse which presents a romantic picture of pre-colonial past, of indigenous populations, of Himalayan dwellers, and especially of women. The famous Chipko is discussed in this context. By discussing the everyday practices of forest use, I provide a critique of the romantic representation of indigenous people and argue that in order to understand the complex process of ecological change, we have to move beyond chronological periodization of history and problematize the dichotomies of tradition and modernity, of ecologically benign and ecologically harmful. My contention is that the relationship of the pahar is with the forests is shaped by multiple positionings of caste, gender, age, and inter- and intra-village politics. By presenting the contentious relationship of a forest dependent community with its forests, with each other, and with the state, the dissertation illustrates the multiple axes of power and control that determine the politics of forest use and management and exploitation.


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