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.