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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 293-307

The Decline of Village Common Lands and Changes in Village Society: South India, c. 1850-2000

Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chiba University, 1-33, Yayoicho, Inageku, Chiba-shi, 263-8522 and Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyoku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan

Correspondence Address:
Haruka Yanagisawa
7-6-5, Sugita, Isogoku, Yokohama, 235-0033
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.49193

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The widely accepted view that emphasises the negative impact of the decline in common property re­sources on the village poor generally presumes that village common lands would have been used by all villagers inclusive of the poor without serious differences in the right to access them. Mainly based on historical documents for Tamil Nadu from the nineteenth century, this paper argues that influential vil­lagers controlled 'waste lands' (village common land) and that this elite-dominant system of controlling natural resources declined with the gradual emancipation of the subordinate section of villagers. The ac­quisition of small bits of cultivated land and the encroachment on waste lands by the landless not only mirrored their empowerment and strengthened their bargaining position but also implies, under some cir­cumstances, the creation of possible pre-conditions for an egalitarian type of resource-controlling system. This paper also suggests that, as witnessed in Tamil Nadu in the last two decades, the growth of non­agricultural job opportunities could possibly weaken the pressure on lands and also induce farmers to change cropping patterns of their farms, sometimes leading to an expansion of farm forestry. The acquisi­tion of landholding by the landless and their emancipation could also possibly contribute in this direction.

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