Contested Belonging: An Indigenous Peoples Struggle for Forest and Identity in Sub-Himalayan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This dissertation deals with the modern predicament of the Rabha or Kocha people, their survival in the forest and their quest for identity. Rabhas are one of India's indigenous or tribal people, and they live in the jungle tracts where the Himalayan mountains meet the plains of Bengal. When the area came under British rule and was converted into tea gardens and reserved forests Rabhas were forced to give up their shifting cultivation and become labourers under the forest department. Today, large-scale illegal deforestation and the global interest in wildlife conservation once again jeopardize the survival of Rabhas in the forest. The study is based on a one year fieldwork, divided into four periods among the Rabhas between 1990 and 1995, and also on archival material from the India Office Collection in London. It is argued that the Rabhas above all respond to increased marginalisation by the assertion or construction of cultural or ethnic identity. This assertion of identity takes the form of "latent" ethnic mobilisation, a process of community formation, rather than the explicit identity politics generally dealt with by the literature on ethnicity. Rabhas ongoing conversion to Christianity and their present mode of narrating their past are examples of this process, and central to it is that the Rabha people assert their identity in opposition to the dominant Bengali community.


  • B G Karlsson
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Anthropology


  • Rabha, anthropology, indigenous people, forest, wildlife conservation, India, ethnic mobilisation and Christian conversion., cultural identity, Cultural anthropology, ethnology
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1997 May 27
  • Department of Sociology, Lund University
Print ISBNs91-89078-04-7
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 1997-05-27 Time: 10:15 Place: Carolinasalen, Lunds universitet External reviewer(s) Name: G. Fox, Richard Title: Professor Affiliation: [unknown] ---