Karan Shrestha: Stealing Earth
Chitwan National Park, the first protected area in Nepal, was established in 1973 after having been a favoured hunting and trading destination of Nepali royalty and British colonisers for over a century. Since then, it has become the icon of biodiversity conservation and tourism development. Yet for indigenous communities such as Bote, Majhi, Musahar, Kumal, and Chepang, who depend on natural resources for their sustenance, the forest is home.
Chitwan has been steadily expanding since its inception. Legislation on the protected area in the new constitution, which came into effect in 2015, is reminiscent of the autocratic monarchy state: the government declares protected areas and buffer zones in any territory without consulting indigenous and local inhabitants of that area, resulting in forced evictions, loss of land and livelihood, arrests, torture and sexual assault of the marginalised communities by armed forces. An 800-strong armed battalion of the Nepali Army, entrusted with ensuring the security of Chitwan National Park, has acted with impunity. The Army does not fall under the jurisdiction of the anti-graft constitutional body. Stealing Earth addresses how the rhetoric of conservation is used to enclose land, forest and water for the wealthy and powerful, pushing poor and disempowered people further to the margins.