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Ann Gold received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1984. She is a Professor in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. Her extensive work in the North Indian state of Rajasthan has included studies of pilgrimage, gender relations, epic tales of world-renunciation, and cultural constructions of the environment. Her publications include three books (published by the University of California Press): Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrim (1988); A Carnival of Parting: The Tales of King Bharthari and King Gopi Chand (1992); and Listen to the Heron's Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India (co-authored with Gloria Raheja, 1994).

Abstract of paper given at Hinduism and Ecology conference:
If You Cut One Branch You Cut My Finger: Court, Forest, and Environmental Ethics in Rajasthan

In an area that has suffered severe environmental degradation over the past half-century, rural citizens speak of communities and disjunctions between royal past and democratic present. The conservationalist ruler of this small North Indian kingdom, who died in 1947, perceived himself so fully identified with his forests that he would tell people, "If you cut one branch you cut my finger." Such vividly expressed embodiment within territory constitutes a major element in "responsible authority" (zimmedari) attributed to this king. His strictly enforced environmental policies harmonized with ancient ideals of a king's morality (dharma), even though his personal responsibility was ultimately selfish--as he simultaneously sustained his own reputation and his hunting pleasure while protecting the forest and wild animals. In today's modern state, government workers who patrol the forest act from self-interest, as did the former king. But, in contrast to him, they are understood to lack any responsibility to their temporarily assigned territories, and no one would describe them as moral agents. Aware of crisis, some communities and schools look for ways to renew environmental responsibility. While this would certainly not be founded in outdated autocracy, it could recognize and expand the king's claim of a substantially shared and mutually determined destiny for nature and humankind.

 

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