Development vis-à-vis Degrowth: Stories of Resistance, Struggle, and Survival from the Postcolonial Western Ghats




Western Ghats, Climate change, Development, Degrowth, Forest


One of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity according to UNESCO, the Western Ghats have much to be credited for the historical prosperity of western peninsular India. The colonial era marked the beginning of the ecological diversity of the forests of the Ghats, spawning new rules and policies in the state. The consequent land allocations posed a challenge to the community identity of the indigenous tribes of the region. Even after India’s independence, the native successors in governance and land ownership inherited the capitalist and imperialist policies claiming to reduce poverty through development. The rampant growth strategies and the unpredictable climatic variations with a cycle of drought and torrential rain further threatened the ecological stability and also pushed the native tribes into destitution and displacement. This paper attempts to analyze literary works chronicling the tribal lives of the Western Ghats alongside social narratives on the recent harsh adverse effects of unsustainable growth in southwest India. The acclaimed novel Kocharethi the Araya Woman brings to the fore powerful statements of race and land rights of the Arayar community against the backdrop of the Western Ghats. The woes of the Badaga population of the Nilgiris amidst development interventions are core to the novel When the Kurinji Blooms. The paper attempts to read how the poignant narratives from the Western Ghats are a clarion call to redefine development through a broader cultural process of decolonizing the growth paradigms.


Abraham, K. (2018, November 7, Wednesday). ‘Sabarimala belonged to us’: Kerala’s Mala Araya tribe to challenge thantri family. The NEWS Minute.

Agarwal, A. (1985). Ecological destruction and the emerging patterns of poverty and people's protests in rural India. Social Action, 35(1), 54-80.

Baker, B. (2019, February 9). The language of climate change and the anthropocene. Penn Today, Pennsylvania University.

Breeks, J. W. (1873). An account of the primitive tribes and monuments of the Nilgiris. India Museum.

Cederlöf, G. & Sivaramakrishnan, K. (Eds.) (2006). Ecological Nationalisms: Nature, Livelihoods, and Identities in South Asia. University of Washington Press.

Cernea, M. (2011). Broadening the Definition of “Population Displacement”: Geography and Economics in Conservation Policy. In H. M. Mathur (Ed.), Resettling Displaced People (pp. 85-119). Routledge.

Census of India, 2011. Registrar General of Census, GOI. New Delhi.

Census of Travancore, 1901, as quoted in E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Vol. IV, 1909, pp. 3871 (hereinafter Thurston, 1909).

Chandrasekharan, C. (1973). Forest Resources of Kerala: A Qualitative Assessment. Kerala Forest Department.

Cronon, W. (2011). Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. Hill and Wang.

Cullen-Unsworth, A. L., & Maclean, K. (2015). We now have a name for some of the big changes happening on our Bubu [country]: The role of Indigenous knowledge for the management of cultural landscapes in a changing climate: a case study of the Kuku Nyungkal people from the Queensland Wet Tropics, Australia. In D. Harvey (Ed.), The Future of Heritage as Climates Change (pp. 115-130). Routledge.

Dados, N., & Connell, R. (2012). The global south. Contexts, 11(1), 12-13.

Davey, G. (2018). Quality of Life and Well-Being in an Indian Ethnic Community: The Case of Badagas. Springer.

Davies, P. (1985). Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India, 1660-1947. John Murray.

De, D. (2011). Tribals and Green Governance: Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Demaria, F., Schneider, F., Sekulova, F., & Martinez-Alier, J. (2013). What is degrowth? From an activist slogan to a social movement. Environmental values, 22(2), 191-215.

Demaria, F., Kallis, G., & Bakker, K. (2019). Geographies of degrowth: Nowtopias, resurgences and the decolonisation of imaginaries and places. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2(3), 431–450.

Dorninger, C., Hornborg, A., Abson, D. J., Von Wehrden, H., Schaffartzik, A., Giljum, S., ... & Wieland, H. (2021). Global patterns of ecologically unequal exchange: Implications for sustainability in the 21st century. Ecological Economics, 179, 106824.

Mehdudia, S. (2011, February 26). Top Priority for Infra Projects. The Hindu.

Grove, R., & Grove, R. H. (1996). Green imperialism: colonial expansion, tropical island Edens and the origins of environmentalism, 1600-1860. Cambridge University Press.

Grove, R. H. (2017). Colonial conservation, ecological hegemony and popular resistance: towards a global synthesis. In John M. MacKenzie (Ed.), Imperialism and the natural world (pp. 15-50). Manchester University Press.

Guha, R. (1990). An early environmental debate: The making of the 1878 forest act. The Indian Economic & Social History Review, 27(1), 65-84.

Guha, R. (1994). Forestry debate and draft forest act: who wins, who loses? Economic and Political Weekly, 2192-2196.

Guha, R., & Alier, J. M. (1997). Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays from North and South. Oxford University Press.

Guha, R., & Gadgil, M. (1989). State forestry and social conflict in British India. Past & Present, (123), 141-177.

Hickel, J. (2021). What does degrowth mean? A few points of clarification. Globalisations, 18(7), 1105-1111.

Hickel, J. (2017) The Divide. Penguin Random House.

Hockings, P. (1980a). Ancient Hindu refugees: Badaga social history, 1550–1975. Mouton Publishers.

Hockings, P. (1968). Identity in complex societies: Are the Badagas caste or tribe. Journal of African and Asian Studies, 2(1), 29-35.

Hockings, P. (1993). Ethnic identity in a complex society: The Badaga case. Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology, 18(2), 347–364.

Idukki Plantations. (2016) District Administration, Idukki district, Kerala.

International Labour Organization, Concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries (No. 107), 26 June 1957.

International Labour Organization, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), 27 June 1989, preamble.

Jayasree, G. S. 2010. Introduction. In Narayan, Kocharethi. (pp. xv-xxviii). Oxford University Press,

Kallis, G. (2018). Degrowth. Agenda Publishing.

Kennedy, D. (1996). The magic mountains: Hill stations and the British Raj. University of California Press.

Kjosavik, D. J., & Shanmugaratnam, N. (2007). Property rights dynamics and indigenous communities in highland Kerala, South India: an institutional-historical perspective. Modern Asian Studies, 41(6), 1183-1260.

Krishnan, R., & Kiruṣṇan̲, R. (2002). When the Kurinji Blooms. Orient Blackswan.

Latouche, S. (2009). Farewell to growth. Polity Press.

Levien, M. (2018). Dispossession without development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India. Oxford University Press.

Mahias, M.-C. (1997). The construction of the Nilgiris as a ‘tribal sanctuary’. In P. Hockings (Ed.), Blue mountains revisited: Cultural studies on the Nilgiri hills (pp. 316–334). Oxford University Press.

Merchant, C. (2010). Ecological revolutions: Nature, gender, and science in New England. University of North Carolina Press.

Metz, F. (1864). The tribes inhabiting the Neilgherry hills: Their social customs and religious rites. Basel Mission Press.

Misra, P. K. (1999, December 14). The Badaga way of life. The Hindu.

Moore, J. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. Verso Books.

Narayan. (2011). Kocharethi: The Arayar Woman (Catherine Thankamma, Trans). Oxford UP.

Neilson, J., & Pritchard, B. (2009). Value chain struggles: Institutions and governance in the plantation districts of South India. Wiley.

Nirmal, P. (2017). Disembodiment and deworlding: taking decolonial feminist political ecology to ground in Attappady, Kerala. Clark University.

Nixon, R. (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press.

Panter-Downes, M. (1967). Ooty Preserved: A Victorian Hill Station in India. Century Publishing.

Parsons, M., Taylor, L., & Crease, R. (2021). Indigenous environmental justice within marine ecosystems: A systematic review of the literature on indigenous peoples’ involvement in marine governance and management. Sustainability, 13(8), 4217.

Polanyi, K. 1957. The Great Transformation. Beacon Press.

Programme to promote ILO convention no. 169 (PRO 169), and International Labour Standards Department. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Rights in Practice: A Guide to ILO Convention, Number 169. International Labour Organization, 2009.

Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous, and Tribal Peoples. ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989 (No. 169): A Manual. International Labour Organization, 2003.

Ranga, N. (1934). The tribes of the Nilgiris: Their social and economic conditions. Vani Press.

Rousseleau, R. (2013). Claiming Indigenousness in India.

Saravanan, V. (2008). Economic exploitation of forest resources in south India during the pre-Forest Act colonial era, 1793-1882. International Forestry Review, 10(1), 65-73.

Sathyapalan, J. (2010). Implementation of the forest rights act in the Western Ghats region of Kerala. Economic and Political Weekly, 65-72.

Shiva, V. (1993a). Garhwal Himalaya: Ecology and environment.

Shiva, V. (1993b). Ecofeminism. Fernwood Publications.

Shiva, V. (1993c). Monocultures of the mind: Perspectives on biodiversity and biotechnology. Palgrave Macmillan.

Shiva, V. (1992). Women's indigenous knowledge and biodiversity conservation. India international centre quarterly, 19(1/2), 205-214.

Sivaswamy, K. G., Chandy, K. K., Shastry, T. S., Naidu, M. E., & Shastry, T. V. S. (1945). Food famine and nutritional diseases in Travancore (1943-44). Food famine and nutritional diseases in Travancore (1943-44).

Smith, C., Tiwari, S., & Vyas, V. (2007). Comparative study across four states of India—Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu state. In Forest-based communities in changing landscapes. Swiss Development Cooperation-Intercooperation.

Springate-Baginski, O., & Blaikie, P. (Eds.). (2013). Forests people and power: the political ecology of reform in South Asia. Routledge.

Thadathil, A. (2019). Adivasi claims over Sabarimala highlight the importance of counter-narratives of tradition. Economic and Political Weekly, 54(1).

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2012). Western Ghats.

Thomas, K. T. (2005, January). The Hidden Agenda in a welfare garb: Socio-economic reforms in travancore (19th c.). In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (Vol. 66, pp. 949-957). Indian History Congress.

Thurston, E., & Rangachari, K. (1909). Castes and tribes of Southern India. Government Press.

von Lengerke, H., & Blasco, F. (1989). The Nilgiri Environment. Blue mountains: The ethnography and biogeography of a South Indian Region, 20-78.




How to Cite

Rose Joseph, S., & Koudur, S. (2023). Development vis-à-vis Degrowth: Stories of Resistance, Struggle, and Survival from the Postcolonial Western Ghats. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 11(21), 100–117.