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Involving adivasis

Deccan Herald

At a time when intolerance as an issue is at the centre of most of our academic and media discussions, one may be thinking about intolerance historically. The silence over historical massacres and displacements of marginalised is something that India's selective democracy has to confront ethically without coining it intolerant or anti-state. 

In fact, there is a need to look at silence as a language and more as a way of protest by the oppressed and the defeated in a modern day democracy. But strangely, a state which lacks vocabulary to understand this silence takes advantage over these millions of people who are continuously being threatened, displaced and even killed through multiple forms of violence. This silence portrays the nature of our modern day democracy which, with years, has become an instrument of genocide. 

One of the most affected communities in this outrageous violence is the adivasi (tribal) community. The adivasis have been confronting violence since the time we created classifications such as primitive and civilised. History has been very unlawful and untrue to these people. Academics in most history lectures, seminars, books and talks today, begin with feudalism, colonisation or industrialisation. 

It is as if history began with what we call civilisation. Most studies show that the adivasis are amongst the highly developed societies in the world today. Felix Padel, an eminent anthropologist who has been studying and understanding these communities for years now, regards them as one of the most advanced societies in terms of democratic understanding. 

Yet, there is a sense of hegemony in the way we identity them with our history. In that sense, modern day history is a deliberate mainstream majoritarian violence which confronts the ethics of memory, evolution of knowledge systems and the idea of civilisation itself.

Let's take the example of climate change. Climate change is not only an environmental issue, but it cuts across disciplines like science, economics, history and culture. The issue of climate change has a lot to do with the way we have built our civilised knowledge systems. 

This is an epistemological problem rather than a particular issue of the present time. One feels there is a fundamental lack in the way in which we claim expertise over the issue of climate change. For centuries, the west (mainstream) has been the dominant paradigm through which we have understood nature - through the linear objective lens of western or mainstream knowledge system. 

This objective linear way of looking at nature, in a way has made us construct the notion of development in industrial, materialistic, economic spheres. With the dawn of 20th century, we started confronting regular natural calamities and severe loss of diverse life systems in the planet. 

So, today we talk about sustainable development models like the solar, wind, bio-fuel and bio-mass etc as if these technologies are the solution to prevent nature from its further exploitation and its process of revamping again. One needs to understand that the problem is not in the many models of technical design that lie in the system of life, lifestyle and livelihood rather in the way we have thought or conceptualised about these categories itself.

The adivasis, whom we consider as vulnerable and primitive, have a larger understanding of nature that they have developed since millennia. Their entire knowledge system is built around the core values of nature. This precisely is the reason for their long term sustainable life, lifestyle, livelihood and lifecycle. 

Today, their knowledge, culture, traditions and core values are being threatened by us - the civilised in the name of development. Their notion of development varies epistemologically. This is where the material and economic notion of development loses its grammar, its vocabulary and seems undemocratic as an idea itself and yet, we forge ahead as if development is the key to our future. 

Real development

There is a need to understand these societies as highly developed and sustainable in the way they have conceptualised development without disturbing the balance of ecosystems. Comprising only four per cent of the world's population (between 250 and 300 million people), they utilise 22 per cent of the world's land surface. 

In doing so, they maintain 80 per cent of the planet's biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 per cent of the worlds protected areas. This is real development and sustenance of life, which we civilised societies haven't achieved. With a collective knowledge over various kinds of ecosystems, these people are brilliant observers of nature. There are even instances of these adivasi communities reporting of climate change much before science brought it into the limelight. 

The adivasi people are only rarely considered in academics, policy discourses and more importantly in climate change negotiations, despite that fact that they have larger understanding of these issues. There is a need to understand the adivasis as expert voices in global climate change policy formulation and action. 

The adivasis and other local communities are vital and active players in understanding sustainability as a whole. Over the years, they have developed carbon neutral ways of livelihood and lifestyle that we as civilised need to understand and adapt for our forthcoming generations. 

There is an even greater need to understand their voices, silences and their resistance over corporate exploitation of their lands as these communities hold the key to the future of sustainable life on earth. The Dongria Kondh, a tribe in Odisha, warns ahead of the Paris climate change summit: "Maati roh poko ame, Maati bina ame banchiba nahi" (we are all earthworms; we cannot live without the earth). 

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