Adam Runacres (PhD, UCL Anthropology)
For my PhD research, I travelled to Panna in Madhya Pradesh, Central India to live in a village on the border of Panna Tiger Reserve. My study looks at the relationships between the conservation initiative and its officials and the local people and how the tiger reserve has an impact on their lives. The conservation landscape is home to multiple stakeholders, including local villagers and the Forest Department but also the burgeoning tourism industry, city residents and other governmental departments, and I endeavoured to develop relationships with each group to understand their inter-relatedness. Particularly relevant to the village where I stayed was the National Mineral Development Corporation Diamond Mine (Majhgawan) for the services it provided to local communities such as a school, hospital, post office and a free bus service. It was on said bus that I arrived in the village for the first time, much to the surprise of the local people.
Panna Tiger Reserve has had a turbulent recent history, having lost all of its tigers to poaching in 2009 and successfully rebuilt the population to over 40 individuals today. However the benefits of this conservation success have been minimal to communities such as the one where I stayed. Livelihoods continue to be curtailed and negatively impacted by conservation and people are growing more concerned about the new generation of Panna tigers expanding their territories into human settlements. In my every day life in Panna, I would spend my time engaging with village life, having long chats over cups of tea, attending village events and observing ritual practices throughout the busy Hindu festival calendar.
A funded six month extension to my studentship granted generously by the ESRC allowed to me learn Hindi previous to arriving and thus grant me a certain degree of independence in my village life. Now that I have returned, I miss my friends and the jungles in Panna, and walking about London often turn to remark on something like the trees or the birds that I wouldn’t have before. My experiences in Panna are indescribable in their importance to my life now and I can’t wait to visit again soon.