Smt. Jumyir Basar
Professor, Arunachal Institute of tribal studies,Rajiv Gandhi University
Rono Hills, Arunachal Pradesh
Indigenous conservation practices and sustainability has drawn the attention of the world community after 1980s. This research interest has emerged after the realisation of the significance of ecology in development at the Stockholm Conference of the UNO in June 1972. (Dreyer, et al. 1989:3).However, much before this realisation dawned at international level the importance of community knowledge in sustainable development (which in Kumarappa’s terms is an ‘economy of permanence’ (Kumarappa, (1945/1997)) was recognised by Gandhi1 in 1930s. From 1980s, scholars, researchers, NGO activists, planners (Chambers, 1979 & 1983; Howes and Chambers 1979; Warren, 1976; Richards, 1979; and Brokensha, et al. 1980), funding agencies2and international institutions (IUCN, 1980; FAO, 1991; WSSD, 2002; UNESCO, 2002; World Bank, 1997 and ILO, 1957 & 1989) took interest on community conservation practices as community knowledge or the indigenous knowledge was recognised as a strategy to rectify the failures of development practices in realising set objectives.
Particularly, it is widely believed that western model of development through state intervention has resulted in wide spread environmental degradation and consequent marginalisation of local communities. The view is based on the premise that alienation of
1 IKS is contrasted to western scientific knowledge which is technology based at the core. Gandhi was against western technology and western model of development. Conversely he was for IKS with minimisation of wants which is in contrast to consumerism promoted by western model of development. He believed in production by masses but not mass production for in the former participation and thus the knowledge of the people is implicit whereas in the later machine is more predominant in the production, people having less participation.
2See Gurung (1994). MacArthur Foundation, USA, in collaboration with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Nepal sponsored a series of meetings and a seminar on IKS and Biodiversity Management from April 13-15, 1994 in which cultural beliefs and practices were emphasised in relation to land use decisions and resource management by communities inhabiting national parks and protected areas.
community knowledge and common property resources went hand in hand. (See Alvares, 1991).
In response to the above view the international institutions have been engaged in the promotion and application of community knowledge in sustainable, participatory3 and inclusive development. Sustainable development in essence emphasises on the relationship between Indigenous Knowledge and conservation and management practices of natural resources. (See Brundtland Report, 1987;Earth Summit, 1992 (Quarry, 1992); Berkes, 1995; Cicin-Sain &Knecht, 1995; Brosius, 1997; Kangling, et al. 2000; Seeland & Schmithüsen, 2000;
Nakashima and Roué, 2002; Misra, 2005).
Even before the world community’s realization of the importance of indigenous conservation practices in sustainable resource management, this knowledge system has been influencing resource management practices of traditional communities like the tribes for securing their sustainable livelihoods. To this day, these communities possess traditional knowledge which has been recognised useful in eco-restoration. It has been noticed that these people know how to live with harmony in nature under the shield of their culture. The fact of the matter is that the knowledge of tribal communities in particular has been playing a vital role in preservation and management of natural resources.
3Brundtland Report greatly emphasized on local level participation in decision making and in local capacity building. (Cicin-Sain&Knecht, 1995:106).
Bodos, Rabhas and Dimasain Assam;Apatanis, Sherdukpen, Monpa, Wanchos, Nyishis, Galo, Adi, Khamba, Menba (Arunachal Pradesh), Manipur (365 recorded groves) and Sikkim.
Technically, all indigenous communities consider human being as a part of the ‘community on beings’ rather than at the apex of creation. For example among the Tani group of tribes in Arunachal Pradesh Tiger is treated as the elder brother of human. Thus, killing a tiger is treated equivalent to committing homicide. Therefore, though their livelihood is directly related to the natural resources, rampant exploitation was not practiced. There are in all communities’ specific seasons for hunting and gathering.
However, it is important to note that such practices of ‘living in harmony’ with nature existed when communities were operating as self sustained units governed by traditions and customs. But with their integration to external forces of development, especially market economy, traditional environmental ethics (which was communitarian in nature) has given away to individualisation (with intent of maximising individual ownership). This has led to class like formation in many of the indigenous communities, with concentration of wealth among the elites.
Therefore, in present context we need to understand that communities in Northeast are undergoing change and new social orders are being formed. We need to look into these new social orders if we seek a way forward. The strength of tribal community has been it’s rootedness in communitarian way of life, and communities have re-adopted communitarian approach when livelihood concerns are secured. The best practices in terms of conservation and sustainability can come only from the community. We have witnessed how participatory approaches have failed without empowerment of the community. Continuity of community conservation and sustainability practices lies inempowerment of indigenous communities and in devising mechanisms of empowerment in process of development.
As indigenous people the concern is how we negotiate as communities, which has always been rooted in sustainability, with changing dynamics within the communities and our own developmental engagement.
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