Venkat Ramanujam Ramani

Venkat Ramanujam Ramani's picture
Venkat Ramanujam Ramani
Post-Doctoral Research Associate

I am a member of a research team led by Sharachchandra Lele, examining the implementation and outcomes of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, a recent legislation with far-reaching potential to democratize forest governance in India. Through my consideration of livelihood transitions and power relations, I contribute to the research team's overall emphasis on the central Indian region, where more than one-third of India's Adivasi (Scheduled Tribe) peoples reside, and which contains more than a quarter of India's forests. In the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, we examine the social and ecological outcomes of forest rights recognition and the challenges of community forest management planning by integrating a focus on livelihoods as well as biodiversity conservation. Our research project is a part of ATREE's Forests and Governance programme.  

PhD Dissertation

Entitled Shifting human-nature interactions in the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh, central India, doctoral dissertation (Ph.D. awarded 2021) explores rural transformation in a community of forest-dwelling Baiga and Gond Adivasi communities in central India. I combine an historical investigation with an ethnographic exploration of social and ecological change from a standpoint of environmental sustainability and social justice. Using an analytical lens drawing on the theoretical contributions of Pierre Bourdieu and Sherry Ortner, I examine livelihood shifts in a setting marked by forest decline and agrarian change. I analyse the ways in which the Adivasis engage with the power asymmetries in which they are enmeshed. Beginning with a perusal of historical material, I carried out nineteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, supplemented by quantitative analysis of data on India’s rural employment guarantee programme, and analysis of twenty-year remotely-sensed forest cover and forest fire data.

Based on extended fieldwork in the Baiga Chak region of Dindori District, Madhya Pradesh, the dissertation uncovers (i) livelihood shifts towards agricultural intensification, wage employment, and cyclical migration, (ii) changing environmental attitudes, and (iii) religious values and practices in transition. In the process, it sheds light on the impact of social protection legislation, especially the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005, the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, and the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013. 

Doctoral Advisory Committee

  • Sharachchandra Lele, Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy and Governance, ATREE (Chair/ Ph.D. supervisor) 
  • Amita Baviskar, Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology & Anthropology, Ashoka University, Sonepat, India 
  • Ankila Hiremath, Fellow and Co-convenor, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE

Research Interests

My research interests lie at the intersection of political economy, critical agrarian studies, forest governance, and environmental history. Building on my doctoral research findings, I am currently examining Adivasi migration from Dindori District and its implications for an evolving environmental consciousness in the Maikal Hills.  

Professional Information

In an earlier avatar as a development worker, I worked with the central Nicobarese community in their post-tsunami reconstruction effort in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. My association with the central Nicobarese metamorphosed into a research engagement examining the socio-cultural impact of humanitarian intervention in the Nancowry archipelago. 

Still earlier, I worked with forest-dwelling communities to regenerate the forest and pastoral commons in the Aravali Hills of southern Rajasthan in the capacity of Project Officer, Foundation for Ecological Security, Spearhead Team Udaipur.


  • Ph.D. in Conservation Science and Sustainability Studies, ATREE, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (2021)
  • M.Phil. in Environment, Society, and Development, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge (2010)
  • M.A. in Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (2004)
  • B.A. (Hons.) Economics, St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi, India (2002)

Recent Grants

  • 2020: Deepak Damor Small Grant for Research in Critical Rural and Agarian Studies for study entitled 'Impact of MGNREGA in the rainfed Adivasi region of the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh, central India'
  • 2019: DeFries-Bajpai Foundation Small Grant for study entitled 'Adivasi migration from the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh: Motivations and changing environmental consciousness'

Talks and conference papers

  • 2021: Forest of transformation: Livelihood and aspiration in the Maikal Hills of central India. Presentation made at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology - Delhi, 23rd November
  • 2021: Collective land-titling in a central Indian forest: Fostering conservation but promise betrayed. Paper presented at a panel entitled, 'Anthropological perspectives on collective land-titling as conservation,' at the Anthropology and Conservation Conference, Royal Anthropological Institute, London, 27th October
  • 2021: India's indigenous peoples in transition. Presentation at the Seminar on International Indigenous Perspectives, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, 25th October     
  • 2019: Innovation in a time of precarity: Indigenous livelihoods in transition in a central Indian forest. Presented at the Journal of Peasant Studies 2019 Summer Writeshop-Workshop in Critical Agrarian Studies and Scholar-Activism, College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University, Beijing
  • 2019: Agrarian change, forest rights, and an Adivasi-environment relationship in transition in the Maikal Hills, eastern Madhya Pradesh. Guest lecture at the Department of Environmental Studies, Ashoka University, Rajiv Gandhi Education City, Sonepat, Haryana
  • 2019: Forest of ambivalence: Rights minus governance in the Maikal Hills of eastern Madhya Pradesh. Presented at "Entangled Natures: Conference on Human Ecology," Ambedkar University, Delhi


  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat (2017) Forest Rights in Baiga Chak, Madhya Pradesh, Economic and Political Weekly, 52 (25 & 26), pp. 47-50 [pdf]
  • Thorat, O., Ronita Mukherjee, R. Venkat Ramanujam, Vikram Aditya, and M. Soubadra Devy (2016) Patterns of herbivory on Macaranga peltata, a pioneer species in the mid-elevation forests of the Western Ghats, Current Science, 111 (5), pp. 790-92 [pdf]
  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat (2015) NTFP decline in the Maikal Hills: What are its implications? Protected Area Update (No. 114), Vol. 21, No. 2. [pdf]
  • Lele, S., R. Venkat Ramanujam, J. Rai (2015) Co-operative procurement and marketing of tendu leaves in Madhya Pradesh: Image and reality. Environment and Development Discussion Paper No. 3. Bengaluru: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.[pdf]
  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat, Simron Jit Singh & Arild Vatn (2012) 'From the ashes into the fire: Institutional change in the post-tsunami Nicobar Islands.' Society and Natural Resources, 25 (11), pp. 1152-1166.[pdf]
  • Singh, S. J. & R. Venkat Ramanujam (2010), ‘Exploring ecological “unequal” exchange using land and labour appropriation: Trade in the Nicobar Islands, 1880-2000’. In: Hornborg, A. & A.K. Jorgenson (eds.) Global Trade and Environmental Justice: New Approaches to Political Ecology, New York: Nova Publishers.


  • Ramani, Venkat Ramanujam (2021), Shifting human-nature interactions in the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh [Central India]. Ph.D. dissertation. Manipal: Manipal Academy of Higher Education, and Bengaluru: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. [pdf]
  • Ramani, Venkat Ramanujam (2010), Gifts without dignity? Gift-giving, reciprocity, and the tsunami response in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. M.Phil. thesis (Advisor: Emma Mawdsley).  Cambridge: Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.[pdf]
  • Ramani, Venkat Ramanujam (2004), Opportunity cost of forest conservation in Kenya . Master’s thesis (Advisor: Alka Parikh). Mumbai: Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Book Reviews

  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat (2019) Subordinated pasts, subordinated present? Review of Zehmisch, P., 'Mini-India: The politics of migration and subalternity in the Andaman Islands', Economic and Political Weekly, 54 (24), pp. 27-29. [pdf]
  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat (2011) Local/regional/global resonances. Review of Kumar, D., Vinita Damodaran, and Rohan D'Souza, (Eds.) 'The British Empire and the Natural World: Environmental Encounters in South Asia.' The Book Review, 35 (8-9).
  • Ramanujam, R. Venkat (2010) Moral imperatives of the development paradigm. Review of Pandian, A. 'Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India.'The Book Review, 34 (12), pp. 3-4.

Selected Non-academic Writing

  • 'The Sahib of Saraidadar', an autobiographical essay in two parts on the blog Pangolin Prophecies [Part 1] and [Part 2]
  • 'Labours of love', a short story in two parts set in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on the blog ATREE Young Researchers' Network [Part 1] and [Part 2]
Thesis Title: 
Shifting human-nature interactions in the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh
Date of Graduation: 
25.08.2021, Wednesday
Graduation Batch: 

People Page

Journal Articles

R Venkat Ramanujam 2017 Forest Rights in Baiga Chak, Madhya Pradesh Economic & Political Weekly, vol lIi nos 25 & 26.

Discussion Papers