Environmental activists tend to overlook the fact that tigers are a significant threat to human life in the Sundarbans islands. Yet, for the inhabitants of those islands, tigers also offer a potent source of identification as they are seen to be sharing a harsh environment and a common history of displacement. This book examines the ways in which different social groups — from wealthy landowners and government job holders to lowly forest workers, poachers and prawn collectors — map their social locations.
This book is also an exploration of the history of the encounter of Islam and Hinduism in the region, expressed through tiger-charming practices, the legacy of Sufi pirs and the worship of forest deities such as Bonbibi and Dokkhin Rai.
With the recent arrival of the prawn industry, the products of which are sold to a global market, the marginal workers of the forest, especially women, are beginning to shift their religious allegiances. What is driving the displacement of the traditional forest deities by the more powerful, more 'global' figure of Kali?
As environmentalists highlight the unique biodiversity of the Sundarbans ecosystem and push for greater conservation, the author revisits the islanders' memories of the Morichjhanpi massacre and their uneasy engagements with statist politics. These provide the critical background for the present-day dilemmas which emerge regarding the perceived unjust allocation of resources between humans and wildlife in a region better known as 'tiger-land'.
‘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)