This chapter aims to use the study of the Forest Rights Act (2006), India, and the alternative ways in which it has enabled indigenous communities to legally stake ownership claims and trump land acquisition claims made by the state and corporations. The spate of tribal community claims in the last five years or so – Niyamgiri, Kamanda in Odisha; Pelma, Jarridih, Sakta, Urba, Maduadumar in Chhattisgarh; Lippa in Himachal Pradesh – bear witness to the productive ways in which possessive claims are being staked by tribal communities to their generational land.
While much of communal literature remains skeptical about the idiom of property to address indigenous community claims, I want to explore the alternative and subversive idea of property that is advanced by the Forest Rights Act (FRA). It spatializes property and predicates it on an alternate mode of possession. It links the question of “who possesses” to question of “what is being possessed”, admitting both the nature of the rights holder and the realm over which the right is to be extended into the rights analytics. Building on Sarah Keenan’s idea of “subversive property”, the chapter reflects on how these two aspects of a rights-analytics – who and what of possession – enable tribal communities to stake possessive claims communally, unsettling and subverting property claims that powerfully inhere in statist, corporatized or individual claims to land and resources. FRA can be seen as inaugurating a particular form of property relation that enable and legalize the idea of property as “belonging” and as pluralizing the idea of a propertied subject. This chapter suggests that in shifting the focus away from the individuated and/or statist subject, towards a communal subject, the FRA assigns a jurisdiction to indigenous peoples’ collective claims and reveals the political potential of (community) property rights.