Monthly Archives: December 2015
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. 
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 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
 Misings are the second largest tribe who mostly live in the flood-prone districts of Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat and Sonitpur
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.