GISDP Blogs

Revisiting the lost art of being human : Spiritual science and the project of Transformation

The global pandemic Covid-19 appears to be the culmination of an apocalyptic prophecy made by  number of scientifically engaging community of thinkers, for the last few decades, about an impending  global crisis. It was the same, premonition based on scientific data that made Bill Gates predict  a global pandemic in the 2015  TED talk that went viral in the internet after the Covid 19 crisis. As a global citizen of an emerging economy but traditional society like India , my rational capacity to analytical thinking is often influenced by a more organic, intuitive and experiential consciousness  grounded in the  traditional wisdom that revered   sustainable  balance of an interconnected  existence  between man and his environment , externally ; and also prescribed practices for inward seeking realization,  body- mind coexistence, that lay the genesis  of some of the  earliest human ideas on transcendental universal man. I see the pandemic in the form of COVID 19 as inevitable. Referring to one of the most profound ideas of ancient hindus , the law of causality is inbuilt in the primordial  intelligence of existence. The vandalism of nature by human beings and their chaotic, extractive worldview of environmental management, reveals a clear path to this inevitable crisis. There are number of instances and documented evidence from post covid internet and web resources that show mysterious and strange ways in which nature reclaimed its space and status in the planetary species chain, during the course of the Corona virus pandemic. As human beings sought refuge from an erratic, predatory microscopic live-form, the planet has reinstated nature successfully, with an impressive display of resilience and  infinite power to replenish and refurbish the decadence set by human vandalism. As though, some invisible, inconceivable, non-localized, autonomous, omni-present intelligence underlying existence, voiced in clear words “Balance and stability will be restored, come what may , no matter who is annihilated  in the ethical struggle of interspecies survival”.

The crisis of pandemic unfolds uncomfortable realities. It revealed the vulnerability and fragility of human existence, that claimed a mastery and dominance over technological innovation with an arrogant doggedness, and forcefully intervened and engineered every natural system that was intended to be a gifted legacy for human sustenance. Humanity has never needed the antidote of atonement and realization as it does now. Never before has the entire world come together, in this scale of shared life experience, common destiny of a global crisis. Man’s common future and shared destiny is finally an inarguable fact  as entire humanity is forced into the guillotine of a moral equalizer that not only leveled  inter-species existence, i.e from the virus to the animal to the human being but also intra-species equilibrium between  the rich and poor nations, rich and poor people.  The panacea need to be  found in ideas of reinstating the ‘selfless’ in institutionalization of an “enhanced self’ . To integrate values of individual freedom and personal responsibility with universalism, balance, coexistence, wellbeing and peace, while creating social institutions.  These values are not new, traditional wisdom embedded in the philosophical worldview of a number of ancient civilizations are rich with this wisdom. The most profound and earliest known are found in the rich works of Vedas and Upanishads .

In the words of Swami Vivekananda, the first  modernist vedantist  philosopher from India whose contribution to deconstructing Vedanta philosophy of the ancient hindus[1] ( I do not refer to organized Hinduism as a religion but rather to an ancient  way of life among inhabitants who lived in the region of ancient Aryavattas)   for the creation of a secular universal man is still highly contemporary and relevant. Vivekananda  spoke of the relevance of Vedanta as a philosophy , which embodies the  final wisdom of the Upanishads. In 1920, in his speech at the Chicago conference of world religion, he tried to unearth, revive and revitalize the rationalized coherent knowledge system of the Advaita,in the Vedanta as an invaluable collective heritage of mankind.  The basic premises of Vedanta, rests on ideological parameters of inclusion and universal values. The fact that every single element, that inhabits the atomic to the cosmic universe works on few fundamental  interconnected principles , make universal ethics as given for the systemic balance of the universe. Having reached the zenith of scientific knowledge, man s intellectual analytical capacity has no doubt been chiseled and surpassed formidable limitations. This is evident in the way man made models of reality in the form of technology has taken humanity into galloping  experiences of post human nature. Western science, its enthusiasm with rational spirit of systematic investigation, and search for knowledge is often like a conqueror who aims to conquer his object of interest. The strategy of intelligence here is focused, extractive, goal oriented and exclusive. Eastern philosophies, embodied in the Upanishads are often more inclusive, experiential, systemic and interconnected that focus on diversity, dialogue, and consensus through the  body-mind transcendence. The limitations and myopic vision of the prevailing value system that was driven by the western rationality of positive sciences is evident as society grappled to deal with environmental degradation, biophysical limitations to infinite and unsustainable human projects, the growing imbalance between human wellbeing and prosperity. It has become urgent that humanity as a whole should explore alternative worldviews , that could be integrated when we reconstruct the new worldview of the post pandemic human society.

Educational Institutions are vital in this process of reconstruction, reformation for transformation through value centric education. Education has to gear towards enlightened rationalism and activism, by re-conceptualizing ideas of growth, progress and prosperity in the new world. This is possible if we devote considerable energy through research and development dedicated to  unearth, revitalize, regenerate spiritual wisdom for humanity. Education in the true sense is not just an accumulation of information on available data. So far, every form and stage of discipline specific education is only an effort to organize, systematize information that are already available through our vast resources of internet. Online courses and MOOc’s have made it possible to access  and secure degrees in areas and disciplines that are based on information accumulation only. Infact education for the next generation should strive to create enhanced and empowered human beings,  balanced and in harmony  with the universe ,in terms of knowledge, wisdom and holistic values of coexistence, sharing and universal ethics, and not be limited to information accumulation only.  In the age of artificial intelligence and inter galaxy travel, bio-determinism, technology enabled consciousness, Cyborgs, genetically modified life forms, innovations of the technology enabled man, will be venturing into areas of ethics that are not only unforeseen but also inconceivable.

It is felt that  ancient wisdom embodied in Upanishads and Vedanta  are rich in values of self enquiry and  realization, prescribing paths of self discovery for self improvement . We need to reclaim and revive this invaluable wisdom as an inherited legacy from  one of the most dialogical traditions recorded in Vedas and Upanishads, so that the whole world can be acquainted to its practical wisdom of self management vis a vis the deep seated intelligence embedded in the  universe, in the new times to come.

Philosophers and rational thinkers of humanity from the east who were inspired by Vedanta,  such as Shankaracharya, Ramanujam, Ramana Maharshi, Rama Krishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda , Mahatma Gandhi,  A.P .J Abdul Kalam and their followers never claimed to be Messiah’s or religious teachers. Their philosophies and rational ideas on humanity reflect their non conformity with institutionalized religions, practices, rituals and dogmas. It is unfortunate we failed to valorize  their contribution in the secular traditions of modern intellectual thought. In-fact the intellectual premises of these thinkers have been their preoccupation with self realization, self management  for self improvement and efficacy for the welfare of the larger humanity. They prescribed strategies for self management founded on cognitive psychology for every human being  so they could understand their rights , duties and responsibilities as the dominant species on the planet. Every human endeavour and enterprise , whether pursuit of science and technology, pursuit of happiness , rational thinking for nation building and institution building , from this perspective will only empower humanity in  the path of coexistence and peace.  Efforts for transformation in the new world, has to guide and mentor the application of the principles of spiritual science to administer every aspect of secular life. We need to reinstate spiritual wisdom for self management in everyday activity as much as for the working of our social institutions, carefully and meticulously, separating it from religious attributes and dogmatism. The knowledge of early hindus who followed a unique and specific way of life, is full of assertions to respect balance,interspecies coexistence, reverence for high values of peace and universalism. This invaluable human legacy of experiential  and yet deeply philosophical wisdom suffered annihilation  and marginalization when more aggressive, extractive, worldviews took over. These civilization lived through aggressive exploitation and conquest of resources for territorial supremacy and empire building. The ground for destruction and genesis for the apocalypse was set.

Integrating self realization and freedom into the human spirit of scientific enquiry as the foundational worldview of the value consciousness underlying educational institutions, should be the defining character of the post covid society. Every new technological milestone to be covered henceforth has to emerge from re-definition of the new universal man, local in action , universal in vision. I feel there are two areas in which this new worldview can peg on, Firstly, on man’s primordial connection with nature, in the revival of livelihood and food production based on organic farming , that clearly demarcates between need and greed. Age-old traditional wisdom of small-scale farming in the household mode of production has always protected man from starvation and food crisis that is fundamental for sustenance of human society. Agrarian societies has to reclaim their dignity and rightful self esteem in the hierarchy of human civilization, by re- orientation of the economic structure of post covid society. 2ndly, Socialization of younger members of the society and their sensitization to the changing consciousness through intergenerational exchanges , sharing of experiences  in an exemplary, honest, introspective manner will be very important. Once the pandemic is over, we will steadily enter an ambiguous stage of scarcity, that will cut across economic, political, business and the most dangerously personal and mental health spaces. A fearful knowledge vacuum will engulf not only   adults but  will also impact the young minds in most dangerous ways.  The onus is on the adults for having mislead them to an erroneous understanding  of this world till now. The dominant worldview they were familiar with, is  that exploitation of planetary resources are limitless, gratification is higher than values, wastage is higher than frugality. This new reality check forced on them will devastate their mind and bodies. It is now on us to reintroduce and salvage few old forgotten values that were normal when we grew up. Nurturing a kitchen garden, home cooked fresh meals, connecting with extended families and friends, story telling and sharing of experiences verbally, rationing of technology for  sharing family time with parents and grandparents,  respecting nature  and  taking responsibility  of stray animals  , feeding birds in the neighbourhood.  We have to impart the value of sharing and coexistence as the basic personal value to live a fully connected human life.

Hume, R.E. The Thirteen Principal Upanisads. Oxford: 1921.  The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit with an outline of the philosophy of the Upanishads and an annotated bibliography, by Robert Ernest Hume (Oxford University Press, 1921). 5/15/2020. <https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2058>

Olivelle, P. The Early Upanisads: annotated text and translation. New York: Oxford University Press,1998.

The state of the art as far as Upanisad translations go. This invaluable work is highly accessibly and absolutely indispensable for both the beginner and the expert. The important thing about this edition for the non-Sanskrit reader is the inclusion of detailed annotations. In these annotations one can find references to any pertinent articles, as well as Olivelle’s own well-reasoned take on any particular issue. Incredible index, for example (“termite: Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.7; Kausitaki Upanisad 4.20″!)

[1] Around 125 years ago, on September 11, Swami Vivekanand delivered an iconic and eloquent speech at the Chicago Convention of Parliament of Religions. Introducing Hinduism to the world in 1893, Swami Vivekanand spoke about intolerance, religion and the need to end all forms of fanaticism.

Warriors of hunger : Farmers striking retorts of Violence

One more time a violent story is retold; once more a seething wound has been recklessly taped by a quickfix cure ; once more a burning inferno inside the heart has been smothered by a helpless district administration’s short-sighted means of arbitration and peace buying. The clash between the expanding populace of muslim settlers in Halaikunda char area ( temporary sand plains formed by river Bharmaputra) with the local indigenous population in the Mayong area in The Darrang district of Assam, could be thankfully contained this time from exploding into large scale violence and ethnic conflict. The community with 70 erosion effected families from Katahguri char was allowed to settle down in this area by the local population on humanitarian grounds in 1998.After all these years, as the muslim community largely composed of agricultural workers who lived on land leased out by local land owners grew in population, the insecurity and clash over resources also grew. Largely agrarian, the local agricultural village of indigenous community felt threatened by the growing competition with the muslim immigrants who were also agriculturists. The age old story of fixing scapegoats was once more reiterated within the general scenario of low human development, economic insecurity , poverty and competition over access to limited natural resources, like land, and forest.

But, was this the only true reason ? What are the underlying forces that produce these intermittent outbursts in this region, notoriously branded as the violent North East. The true reason is to turn a blind eye towards degradation of a society where agriculture and unorganized farming in rural areas is turning out to be economically non-viable due to small landholdings and lack of infrastructural support. The inferior value attached to manual labour makes farming, a very low-prestige profession which the emerging urbanised educated middle classes loathe to associate themselves with. The push factors of emerging urbanization have made rural India and all its associated riders of village life and farming as a livelihood option unattractive to the youth. This is a dangerous trend for emerging economies: the centrifugal forces of urbanization is creating havoc in the balance of local development of rural India and survival of its ‘little and folk traditions.’ In fact, what is happening is even dangerous: no doubt a booming ICT, satellite TV, mobile, and internet facility is bringing the global society into the threshold of village society, but at the cost of a great loss to the self-esteem of rural India as it finds itself dispossessed of its sustainable heritage, which includes among other things organic farming and sustainable food cultivation.

A holistic and comprehensive land policy with clearly defined land ownership in the changed scenario of demographic affiliation, strictly defined parameters of land management and encroachment policy, documentation of land records, differentiation between agricultural land and commercial land, ownership rights, prevention of diversion of agricultural land leading to shrinking of agricultural land , are all important part of exacting solutions to reinstate agriculture as the most viable means of food security, poverty allievation and local rural development.

In Assam the current narrative of conflict between impoverished and low self esteemed farmers and agricultural communities, led to largescale encroachment of Forest areas and degradation of land resources. If this is to continue , the dream destination of India’s next evergreen revolution will not only be farfetched but can never be exacted.Aggressive encroachment by impoverished agriculturist who resort to terrorism against natural resources in desperation,is the first step to eroding agriculture of its most dynamic resource ie human community; destroying the dynamism of agricultural community, their creativity and resilience to contribute into a sustainable food system.

Agriculture for emerging economy is one of the most dynamic sectors of economy . In the years ahead it will evolve as the most effective instrument of social security in areas of food security, employment generation, health and nutrition, driving local development and rural economy. However, having said this, it would be imperative for such economies to safeguard agricultural sector and its implications for manipulations towards environmental degradation, global warming, climate change, toxification of soil, contamination of food and deterioration of human health conditions. This is a mammoth task,because it is one thing to be aware of the potential of harnessing agriculture through effective policy implementation but quite the other to deteriorate it’s existing condition through implemention of ineffective, detrimental policies that are not scientifically researched and locally focused on environment and community. While it is not easy to achieve this, emerging economies will have to explore new options other than intensive agriculture which is increasingly being questioned by the developed world through the apolitical discourse of sustainability and the informal food network . In this endeavour the developing world in the south is being increasingly drawn towards the new science of Agroecology, emerging as a dominant scientific discourse in the developed North. It is rather ironical because a number of scientific premises of the science of Agroecology actually have its foundational premises embedded in traditional knowledge of a local communities in the developing South. In India, the formal scientific parameters of Agroecology will have to ensure strong network and interaction with informal knowledge of local communities that is experiential and mostly unrecorded. For the formal science of Agroecology in the North, having already moved away from their own informal collective memory of farming practices, due to the long span of their modernization of agriculture phase, this evolution of knowledge is more in the formal institutional parameters of scientific knowledge. However the situation is quite different for the developing south where the collective memory of traditional practices are still ingrained in the local rural economy. A comprehensive agricultural policy for emerging economies has to ensure adequate interaction and knowledge sharing between both. In order to ensure this we have to adequately leverage our vast heritage of sustainable farming practices embodied in the informal knowledge base of our agricultural communities, empowering them, supporting them, safeguarding their economic and social security.

From the Indian perspective, Organic Farming is seen to evolve into a dominant institutional rhetoric and India’s political quest to revive our legacy of sustainable farming practices is an example of that trend. North East India with its rich heritage of indigenous community based knowledge of sustainable farming is seen as the next destination of Evergreen revolution. Assam, no doubt, along with other north eastern states with it mosaic of multiethnic and indigenous communities have managed to preserve some of the unique traditions of sustainable agriculture. This optimism, however could be short-lived, as they struggle to grapple with the onslaught of conventional agriculture and weak institutional support and policy planning.

In Assam, conventional industrial agriculture only penetrated through the colonial capitalism of the tea industry. Food crops were fortunately not tampered with, and communities were allowed to carry on with their traditional practices. However, this is not to say that the scourges of industrial agriculture and commercial production of tea did not impact the local ecosystem, biodiversity, and livelihood patterns due to the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers for mass production. Thus, in spite of large-scale degradation of soil quality, water, and human health, what can be still salvaged is probably the invaluable indigenous knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices among the indigenous communities in areas of flood control and management, bio fertilizers, pest control, multi-cropping, seed preservation, food storage, livelihood support, and local food security. It is remarkable that most of the tribal communities inhabiting this region have been self-sustaining in terms of their social structure and economy. Starvation deaths were unheard of, and common property resources regulated through customary laws largely ensured equity, inter-generational stability, and to some extent gender equality.

The traditional paradigm of sustainable agriculture, popularly in India is drawn from the organic agricultural practices underlined in the greater traditions of Hinduism and its grand narrative in texts such as Vrikshayurveda and in practices of agnihotra yajna, pancha gavya,go mutra etc. The little traditions of the tribal folk cultures and their unique sustainable legacy of livelihood practices, many a times go unnoticed due to the lack of proper documentation and research in these areas. There is a great impetus in this region to go organic, given the potentials for organic farming and a growing market of citizens seeking ‘clean and pure food’ production. Undoubtedly, there is enormous potential for this region, given that it is not even halfway as polluted as the other parts of India that went for intensive agriculture during the Green Revolution, such as Punjab and Bengal. Learning from the price that was paid by the Green Revolution in terms of adverse health impacts and natural resource pollution, the current agenda is to go towards an evergreen revolution with full support of the government. Regions like Northeast India, being the last frontier to the Indian post-development planning, await this attention eagerly. But, are they ready for this? A word of caution needs to be heeded, because haphazard adoption of organic farming will not only jeopardize the ethical component of going organic, but will also uproot and destabilize prospects of sustainable agricultural practices in one of the most deserving regions of the world. Right now, there are a number of unorganized endeavours towards organic farming by private entrepreneurs and local farmers. However, in the absence of awareness and commitment to organic food; coordination and networking between farmers and consumers; and community and institutional support for farms to be self-sustaining in terms of seeds, storage, marketing and brand building, organic farming in Assam and North East India as a whole may never see the dawn of success.

The vision of positive intervention, expressed in this brief note cannot be actualized in the scenario of conflict, especially when the conflict threatens the very foundation of its active stakeholders. farming communities in our rural areas. The agriculturists, the farmers, the community in rural assam are all warriors of hunger, equipped with the skillful craft and traditional knowledge base, which if enhanced by modern capacities of technology and sustainable business management could miraculously transform and enhance the structures and processes of the worlds oldest livelihood option Agriculture; the most tested out means of food production, food security and social stability in the times ahead.


Dr Sujata Dutta Hazarika
Deputy Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Guwahati

Prospects of indigenous resources for sustainable energy support in Rural Development of North East India

As part of the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) course at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, my team has made rapid strides over the last 8 weeks in coming up with the core elements of the social enterprise business model for bamboo-based power in rural India and a framework for assessing the geographical suitability of the model in various regions of the country.

As I reflect upon the progress of the project thus far, following are five key insights that have emerged along the way:

(1) The last decade has seen the Indian government undertake various policy initiatives to bring greater access to grid power for villages in India, in an effort to improve rural electrification levels. While several states have seen a proliferation of grid connection in villages, the government’s definition of what constitutes an electrified village is at best lousy: at least ten per cent of homes to be electrified including all common or public areas such as schools and clinics. This implies that some states in India that boast of 90% rural electrification levels may in fact be providing less than 4 hours of continuous power supply to the actual households in a village through centralized grid power supply. This power deficit, resulting in a large measure from unscheduled load shedding, creates a whole set of underlying challenges around provision of continuous, reliable electricity to power rural households.

(2) A Chinese proverb once said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In order to provide continuous, reliable electricity to Indian villages in a sustainable way, villagers must be empowered to take control of the power generation value chain. If the source of power, a large coal-fired thermal plant, is located hundreds of miles away from the village site and connected through a grid, villagers have no visibility into or control over the “process” of power generation, and consequently can do very little to address any disruptions in that process. Therefore, a more sustainable model for rural electrification in India is based on the concept of “decentralized” power generation – placing the source of energy conversion as close to the village site as possible. This decentralized model constitutes the space in which most of the renewables – solar, micro hydro and wind, and biomass – currently operate in India.

(3) Biomass gasification as a form of decentralized power is not a new technology in India and has been in existence for almost three decades now. While the technology has witnessed gradual improvements through greater R&D investment, the reasons why it has not been implemented at scale are multifold:
(a) Economics: In the power generation industry, the most powerful metric boils down to the cost of a unit measure of electricity (KWh). Biomass has traditionally faced tough competition from mineral deposits such as coal (that India has an abundance of), and more recently from subsidized renewables such as wind and solar.
(b) Lack of national advocacy: There have been no coordinated efforts towards promoting decentralized power generation from biomass in rural India. For one, the agenda for rural electrification itself picked up momentum only in the last decade, and prior to that limited incentives were in place for state governments to invest in renewable technologies. Secondly, no single for-profit or not-for-profit organization that has the power or reach to cut across multiple state boundaries championed the cause of biomass power.
(c) Lack of a consistent fuel base: All renewables such as solar, wind, or hydro rely on a consistent, abundant, and sustainable energy source: solar irradiation, wind, and water, respectively. Biomass has traditionally struggled to identify a common source of energy across multiple use cases: molasses, organic content from wastelands (twigs/branches etc.), animal waste etc. This has prevented it from leveraging economies of scale in fuel production.

(4) Bamboo-based biomass for rural electrification, which is the focus of this project, has the potential to address the above challenges. Firstly, its business model for power generation is centered on the use of bamboo, a sustainable grass also called “green gold” colloquially, as the biofuel source. After China, India has the second largest bamboo reserves in the world. Secondly, Tata Trusts, India’s largest philanthropic organization and one that holds a 66% share in the holding company, Tata Sons, is the advocate behind use of bamboo-based power in rural India. Finally, Tata is keen on observing the total impact as a result of this initiative. This implies that a positive social return on investment (SROI) resulting from both direct (income based) and indirect (quality of life based) sources of impact in a village can actually offset unfavorable financial IRR for the proposed business model.

(5) The use of bamboo for power has the opportunity to create a multiplier effect in the rural economy of India by strengthening backward linkages to the benefit of marginalized communities and making bamboo a crop of choice. While bamboo based power will generate an increased demand for forested bamboo, it will also help promote an overall ecosystem that will incentivize the village artisanal workers to invest in skill-building for creating bamboo-based handicrafts and furniture, and for the farmers to consider cultivation/plantation of bamboo as the crop becomes commercially lucrative. However, for this ecosystem to survive and thrive, various challenges need to be navigated such as improving perception of bamboo as a quality material for high-end furniture in mainstream markets, and offering farmers competitive prices for bamboo plantations.

– Saurabh Garg

Traditional and indigenous knowledge systems : Implications for sustainability of local communities in emerging economies

Indigenous and Traditional knowledge (IK &TK) is an inextricable part of our global legacy, an invaluable resource that ensures a just allocation and balance of natural capital and social assets. It is  local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society and  forms the  basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, disaster management and a host of other activities in rural communities. Given its foundational proximity to localism and limited impact, this form of knowledge  appears informal, and small scale. However the most significant contribution that IK makes, is to ensure that a holistic planetary balance maybe maintained through connections of local global exchange of values.

This simply means that when limits are posed at  local level through a paradigm of responsible resource  utilization, equity, environmental sustainability, we may be able to ward off the combined impact of unsustainable practices at a global scale. Given its experiential nature, augmentation and enhancement of IK and TK with capacity building  through modern tools and strategies of mainstream  technology, business, scientific temperament and critical thinking can help evolve a powerful system for local development and welfare state emphasizing adaptability, inclusion, innovation. Particularly for emerging economies at a time when emulating choices made by developed economies is no more sustainable, options of ‘leap frogging’ are being propounded as a path for new age growth. It is now increasingly believed that  areas of the world  that have a poor economic base  can move forward without going through the intermediary steps of developed technologies  and  devise its own locally  adaptable tools, models and ideas to build their society. A number of these formalized locally adaptable technologies for energy, health care, disaster management, agriculture have their foundations in informal knowledge systems that are inherited legacies of local communities.

Indigenous communities in rural periphery have assets, resources and capital that need nurturing by enhancing the local know-how with stepped up research and outside technical advice, in order to increase their efficiency and effectiveness so that it can provide solutions that are immediate, sustainable and inclusive say for example to increase land’s productivity, address health condition, disaster management a and sustain critical ecosystem. People in such communities   have indigenous knowledge that has guided them to conserve scarce natural resources and survive in hostile environments by getting the incentives and keeping the balance right.

Not only in farming techniques, but in other spheres of human endeavours and institutionalized  community support structures like economy, health and risk management, flood and disaster control too we find significant contributions of indigenous communities and their embedded traditional knowledge systems. For example  The Thengal-Kacharis, belonging to the Boro-Kachari ethnic groups are one of the most ancient inhabitants of Assam with rich tradition and cultural history. The bari or homestead gardening has had great significance from the point of conservation, consumption and management of biodiversity. Bari’s connote an operational unit in which a number of crops including trees are grown with livestock, poultry and/ fish production for the purposes of meeting the basic requirements of the rural household.Women of this community have played a key role in sustainable use of bari bioresources through various practices and knowledge systems that have been passed from generation to generation. The crop diversity and their arrangement in a Thengal Kachari’s bari,  traditional practices followed in sustainable management of bari- bio resources  form a significant basis of sustainable indigenous knowledge embedded in the  social organization for livelihood support and management and povery allievation for rural development. [1]

With more than 40 per cent of its surface area susceptible to flood damage, Assam, most of the Brahmaputra valley districts, faces serious floods almost every year. The Brahmaputra valley experienced major floods in 1954, 1962, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1978, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004 and subsequently too. The worst affected districts are Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sonitpur, Morigaon, Dhubri and Barpeta. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) has attempted to take up projects to document the traditional “coping practices” of floods used by indigenous communities and help other communities living in flood-prone areas to adopt them.The traditional practices used by some communities have used their indigenous knowledge in designing their houses and safeguarding their collective resources and property . Communities like the Misings [2]construct chang ghar(houses on stilts) and almost every rural household owns a country boat for use to reduce risks during floods. Modern Disaster management  techniques uses the early warning and shelter facilities to reduce damage during floods, but if  people  are trained from beforehand  to change their style of living, they can use those practices and reduce risks.

Documentation of these  knowledge systems is thus invaluable to create a strategic  awareness programmes  and explore the scope of their use by others. The onslaught of neo liberalism and its supporting political agenda has completely eroded the  paradigm of sustainable living embedded in the  traditionally dominant world view of the indigenous communities. A comprehensive documentation and creation of a data base of the invaluable indigenous knowledge system in areas of  natural resource management practices, community participation, ecological wisdom, land-use-patterns, modes of  community disaster management, forest cover and its use etc could contribute immensely to  the creation of a framework for sustainable liberalism  that seeks to integrate and enhance this informal knowledge with systematic application of  scientific rationality and modernizing techniques for  environmental impact assessment, and  cumulative impact of development interventions based on sensitization of natural capital and ecosystem services and its impending risks both financial and environmental for any unplanned tradeoff’s and externalizing costs; social inclusion and community participation; individual freedom and human rights.

1.Journal of Traditional Knowledge Vol.8(1) January 2009,pp 35-40

[2] Misings are the second largest tribe who mostly live in the flood-prone districts of Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat and Sonitpur

‘Intolerance’ of sustainability in Argumentative traditions: Need to shift the debate

The recent emotional engagement of Indians with the issue of intolerance is rather disturbing,  considering that we have again and again boasted about the resilience of our argumentative tradition, its capacity to adjust and assimilate,  deriving from Hinduism as a way of life, an worldview rather than a religion. That today as a society, we are allowing ourselves to get entangled with a politicized version of the concept of Intolerance is even more alarming for India as a nation. My observations in brief is that,  ‘ intolerance’  inherently is not a value neutral  concept. One can be tolerant or intolerant, only based on the ethical connotation of a  particular event or issue. If one is a neutral spectator  to an immoral action, will he be termed as tolerant  vis-a vis a person who takes the rightful stand and decides to implement a proactive action against the immoral act. The question here is tolerance of ‘what’ and intolerance of  ‘ what’.

This national fervour to proclaim India as tolerant or intolerant nation is itself an indication that we are still very high on tolerance as a society. That pockets and lobbies are engaging in this debate is indeed a positive indicator of India’s resilience as a nation. More so, there are evidences that there is  an effort to  disarm this  debate  from its religious armour. This was seen when the recent Amir Khan imbroglio was defended by Anubhav Sinha Director of PK who tried to bring the onus on the media and its selective indiscretion.

However, in this entire rhetorics what manifests is the failure of  the rational middle class  and eminent  institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University  to sieve out social deviance and value degeneration from the so called idea of   growing religious intolerance in India and politicization of vital social issues. Even greater failure was in the part of so called  recognizable social voices such as Amir Khan  recently,  intellectuals who protested by returning  national awards, public figures, visionaries and social leaders  who rather irresponsibly displayed  malignant indisposition and completely failed  to direct the debate into constructive domains of rational thought . It is indeed disgraceful to see  a nation like India  getting so  embroiled in viewing  intolerance  within a  political agenda, that it totally overlooked the socially deviant  and criminal nature of this events. Also, that not everyone who was talking against the incidents was necessarily implying a generic trend of intolerance as a whole. What complicated the scenario further  is the irresponsible and rather impulsive outbursts of public figures ,who either deliberately engaged or unintentionally  fell  prey to the political motives.

It is apparent that there is  lack of direction, and equally  motivated search for a direction,  in the Indian social fabric.  There is also an increasing incapacity of institutions to create leaders of the stature of Swami Vivekananda, Subhash Chandra Bose,  Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel who could steer,mentor and guide the collective conscience of this dynamic nation towards a constructive path of nation and character building. Mr Modi’s efforts in this direction has to be appreciated going beyond narrow political agenda. His popularity among the Indian Diaspora points to the increasing demands of an evolving transnational Indian nation. His efforts in the beginning of his tenure to address the school children of the nation on children’s day, and  directly interact with school children via ICT and address their queries individually was indeed an effort in that direction. The lack of focus in deliberating right choices is a reflection of foundational weakness in our national character and value consciousness. A situation that has been  created by the breakdown of  institutions that contribute vital  societal functions such as  value orientation and goal attainment in society, such as family, community, education and polity.  The Bihar cabinet  formation points to a dire situation,  it is a sad state  where political goals are  allowed to be manipulated by uneducated  and  doubtful ethics of  politicians.  It is here where  the  intolerance debate  should be  located right now.  Can we as rational thinking citizens, tolerate the increasing role played by undeserving politicians with such  dire educational consequences to architect and engineer our national destiny.

What is now urgent is that we clearly shift  the location of the debate of tolerance from being a  simple political  bickering to  where it really needs to be. What does India as a nation, really  need to be tolerant and intolerant of ?. Instead of being part of the ploy of a defunct social system which is increasingly driven by deviance and value degeneration, incapable of imparting  any constructive direction and guidance, we need to find ways to revive, rebuild and energize  institutions,  leverage on modern education and rationalization of values and strengthen their capacity to address social change, universal justice, equity through  value regeneration.  Grave challenges like religious intolerance, ethnic conflict, poverty, environmental degradation will automatically   find the most conducive solution.