Tribals’ excellent knowledge of the environment, closer to an ideal society – Odisha, Chhattisgarh & Jharkhand

He is British by birth, but prefers to call himself an Indian. Having lived in this country for three decades now, Felix Padel, the great great grandson of father of evolution Charles Darwin, has closely worked on Adivasis in eastern India.

A freelance anthropologist trained at Oxford and Delhi University, Padel has also authored a few books on tribals that analyse and expose the imposition of colonial structures on tribal societies.

What made him come to Jharkhand? “I came here to study the plight of Adivasis — their problems, politics etc.,” he said, adding that he was drawn to this tribal society because it was egalitarian.

“Adivasis have excellent knowledge of the environment and are close to an ideal society that so-called civilised people are far from. This is why I was drawn to India way back in the late 70s,” he said before leaving for Delhi today.

During his five-day trip to Jharkhand, Padel visited Hazaribagh and Ramgarh districts, besides a few mining sites in the state. He observed that the sights of destruction in tribal lands were same — be it in Orissa, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand. However, one thing struck him as positive in Jharkhand: Adivasis spearheading movements against unabated industrialisation. […]

“Till the late 1980s, more than 50 per cent of India’s aluminium was reserved for electrification of villages. Today in Orissa, villages near hydropower plants have no electricity. […]

Does he believe in Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest? “Darwin spoke of different species developing and evolving simultaneously. So, why can’t different human races develop side by side?” Padel said, underscoring his fight for the Adivasis.

Source: “Darwin kin bats for Adivasis” by A.S.R.P. Mukesh, The Telegraph, 18 November 2010
Date Visited: Sat Mar 02 2013 11:50:09 GMT+0100 (CET)

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“I would like to direct attention to the general approach when we encounter the ‘other’ – the question of our protocol, etiquette and attitude. In our eagerness to know we probably show a disregard to these civilities. We try to buy friendship for building up rapport; we try to intrude into others’ territory without being invited and carry presents that we perceive would be appreciated to assert our friendliness.” – Anthropologist R.K. Bhattacharya in “The Holistic Approach to Anthropology”

“Tribal men and women mix freely, but with respect for each other [but] caste Hindu society in India is so convinced of its own superiority that it never stops to consider the nature of social organisation among tribal people. In fact it is one of the signs of the ‘educated’ barbarian of today that he cannot appreciate the qualities of people in any way different from himself – in looks or clothes, customs or rituals.” – Guest Column in India Today >>

“Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” | Learn more about India’s caste system and the effects of “casteism” on tribal communities >>

“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters) | Learn more: Accountability | Democracy | Education and literacy >>

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