Yashada Wagle


Framing the Forest: Wildness and the Tribal Identity in India’s Colonial History and Urban Policy Today

Advised by Lisa Haber-Thomson

Around only a decade ago, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai—the governing civic body of the city of Mumbai, India’s financial capital—was confronted with the insurgence of thousands of adivasis,1 who marched across the city demanding the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006. This Act—also known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA 2006)—was instrumental in legitimizing the occupancy of resident forest-dwelling tribal communities in India, thus abolishing the tyranny of centenarian Forest Laws that prescribed the inverse. In the aftermath of this uprising, Mumbai, priorly caught unawares, has encountered administrative confusion pertaining to the relationship of the wildness of the forest with the city’s claim of being India’s prime modern metropolis.

Through the scope of this thesis, I seek to situate this dichotomy of the forest—usually ascribed with the quintessence of wildness—and the civilization within the context of India’s colonial history. With a focus on the occurrences in colonial environmental policy in the late 19th century, I explicate the nuances of the conceptualization of the politico-legal space of the forest itself. Subsequently, I discuss the protocolonial concept of the jungle, its etymological trajectory, and its erasure from state-driven spatial consciousness. Thereafter, I expound the characterization of the tribe in its biopolitical connection with the space of the forest. In doing so, I seek to eventually highlight the gaps between statecraft’s contemporary understanding of the forest, and the lived materiality of the same.

1 “Adivasi” literally translates to “earliest inhabitants” and is the term most of India’s indigenous communities self- identify with.

Yashada Wagle, MDes. Two pages from books. Left page has text about the Indian Forest Act of 1927. "An Act to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produce and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce." Right page has an illustration of a bear standing next to a tree, looking up at a panther sitting on the tree branch, with the caption, "Bagheera would lie out on a branch and call, 'Come along, little brother.'"
Image Credits: [L] The Indian forester. Dehra Dun [etc.]: R. P. Sharma, Business Manager, Indian Forester. [R] Kipling, R. (1897). The Jungle Book. New York: The Century.
Yashada Wagle, MDes HPDM. The forest’s relationship with the place of the civilization has always been on the latter’s “outside”. Since the 7th century— in its European roots, and in the Indian colonial context thereafter— the “forest” has been conceptualized almost as the anti-civilization. In the contemporary scenario, with “civilization” now engulfing this place of nature, the forest is the space that assumes an interiority and an exteriority. This thesis, then, seeks to ask, when and how the shift in this boundedness originates, which this animation seeks to illustrate. In doing so, it does not seek to assume this mutually exclusive dichotomy of the forest and the civilization as sacrosanct. The intent of this thesis is rather, to explore the history behind it, and to highlight its repercussions on Indigenous knowledges and spatial consciousnesses.
Yashada Wagle, MDes HPDM. An excerpt from recent news coverage on the Aarey forest in Mumbai, titled "Mumbai's Last Jungle Under Threat. A metro project threatens one of the city's last green spaces and the tribal people who live there."
Image Credit: Cantera, Angel L Martinez. 2019. “Mumbai’s Last Jungle Under Threat.” The Diplomat. September 06. Accessed April 29, 2020.
Yashada Wagle, MDes HPDM. On left: The Khambacha Pada (settlement), “isolated” typology of Adivasi settlement in the Aarey Forest, Mumbai. On right: The Moolgaon Pada, “hybrid” typology of Adivasi settlement in the industrial corridor in Andheri, Mumbai.
Yashada Wagle, MDes HPDM. Article from the Hindustan Times. The resident indigenous communities of the Aarey forest in Mumbai are currently embroiled in a fight for their lands and livelihoods, which they are at a risk of losing to the state’s infrastructural interventions.
Image Credit: Sakari, Akash. 2017. “Tribals in Mumbai don’t want to be tagged as slum dwellers, protest against rehabilitation scheme.” Hindustan Times. June 21. Accessed May 12, 2020.