Acclaimed for its unique ecosystem and Royal Bengal tigers, the mangrove islands that comprise the Sundarbans area of the Bengal delta are the setting for this pioneering anthropological work. The key question that the author explores is: what do tigers mean for the islanders of the Sundarbans? The diverse origins and current occupations of the local population produce different answers to this question – but for all, 'the tiger question' is a significant social marker. Far more than through caste, tribe or religion, the Sundarbans islanders articulate their social locations and interactions by reference to the non-human world – the forest and its terrifying protagonist, the man-eating tiger.
Forest of Tigers combines rich ethnography on a little-known region with contemporary theoretical insights to provide a new frame of reference to understand social relations in the Indian subcontinent. It will be of interest to scholars and students of anthropology, sociology, development studies, religion and cultural studies, as well as those working on environment, conservation, the state and issues relating to discrimination and marginality.
List of Figures
Note on Transliteration
2. The Village and the Forest
3. Land and Its Hierarchies
4. Is Salt Water thicker than Blood?
5. Roughing it with Kali: Braving Crocodiles, Relatives and the Bhadralok
6. Sharing History with Tigers
7. Unmasking the Cosmopolitan Tiger
8. Conclusion: Beneath the Tiger Mask, the Human face of the Sundarbans
Annu Jalais is Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"Forest of Tigers is destined to become a benchmark, not only for the study of the Sunderbans, but for all humanistically oriented ecological research."
– Amitav Ghosh, author of The Hungry Tide
"Annu Jalais brings to life the contests of conservation and human survival in the Sundarbans. In a work of rare distinction, she meshes history, anthropology and biology to give a vivid, often disturbing, portrait of the underclasses who live and work in the mangrove forests of the Bengal delta. No one who is interested in ecology or displacement, conservation or democracy can afford to miss this fine work."
– Mahesh Rangarajan, University of Delhi
"This is a must read for those interested in the Sundarbans, its people and its tigers. It is also an excellent resource for social anthropologists and other social scientists. But, most of all, it is a timely contribution to much of our debates about "saving the environment"."
– Biblio: A Review of Books (Sudha Vasan, University of Delhi)
"Annu Jalais makes an outstanding contribution to the anthropology of forest life. In this book, one will find subtly theorised and moving accounts of women engaged in prawn seed fishing in the face of sharks, crocodiles, and other watery hazards; hunters and woodcutters who brave tigers and snakes in the mangrove forests; and extraordinary social workers who built schools and political awareness among the Adivasi, Dalit, and other lower caste migrants and settlers who have lived in the unstable islands of the Sunderbans since the mid-nineteenth century. Years of research in a very difficult terrain, empathy for those who live there, and deep insight into their ecology, worship, and livelihoods, inform the stories told in this fine book."
– K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University