Are Conservation Organisations Complicit in Ethnic Discrimination?
Answering this question with an example of blatantly racist and coercive imagery endorsed and propagated by two large players in the conservation world, both internationally and in India.
Trishant Simlai, doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Cambridge, is interested in the links between armed conflict, militarisation and conservation in India. Raza Kazmi, a Jharkhand-based conservationist, is interested in conservation militarisation, intersection of forest rights and conservation needs, and conservation in India’s conflict-ridden ‘Red Corridor’ landscape.
Global wildlife conservation efforts have advocated the exclusion of local people from ‘parks’ and areas considered to be of great value to biodiversity, often supporting coercive means to achieve this goal. Among the coercive measures often suggested, some don’t shy away from even recommending violence towards ‘offenders’.
Governments, conservation agencies and aid donors have further legitimised this exclusion by frequently invoking the narrative of an expanding human population destroying ‘pristine’ landscapes, often ignoring the role of over-consumption by urban actors or of states and corporate interests extracting resources. Such coercive conservation measures often base their actions on blatant racism, since it is almost always the poor populations of colour that are blamed for environmental degradation throughout the world.
The subject of racism or of ethnic discrimination in conservation is often avoided in most privileged conservation circles, putting most conservationists on the defensive. Many believe that conserving biodiversity concerns itself with a future that is common to all and is hence neutral to class, race and is neither left nor right. However, there are numerous examples of conservation interventions worldwide that belie these claims.
The usual approach of blaming poor populations of colour for environmental degradation can be traced to the advent of the Sierra Club, a large environmental conservation group in the US founded by John Muir, arguably one of the founding fathers of modern day environmentalism, in 1892.