Environmental history and what makes for a civilization – Romila Thapar

A brief excerpt from an interview by PUSHPA CHARI, The Hindu, March 31, 2012

Today, environmental history or understanding history through environmental change, is gaining ground. Have you built it into your work?

Environmental history is being researched in a much bigger way than before. This is apparent in discussions on the decline of Harappan cities. What caused the decline? Today we know that invasions and conquest are very often really quite marginal. More likely factors could be deforestation, possible changes in climate at that time, changes in sea level and the silting up of settlements, flooding, changing river courses like that of the Satlej or the disappearance of the Hakra, and the proximity of settlements to particular ecologies.

I wrote a paper called “Perceiving the Forest‘ where I’ve tried to look at the way people observed and wrote about the forest at different times, and to see how over time it changes. It starts off as the wilderness which is the unknown, and full of demons, the unexpected, feared. And then slowly it changes with settlements and with routes cutting through it, and gradually the forest is not feared, and becomes a part of the cultural scene. […]

Languages develop, expand, become sub-languages or incorporate languages. We don’t know what language the Harappans spoke. Subsequently, the most widely used language was Prakrit up to the early centuries AD and later was replaced by Sanskrit in northern India. Still later the regional languages came into use. In the south an early form of Tamil was current from the start and then the regional languages. To argue that there was always a single language is historically problematic. […]

The resentment against present day corruption is its magnitude and its omnipresence. The citizen has absolutely no resort to getting anything done without conceding to a corrupt practice of some sort.

When corruption becomes so rampant, we must recognise that we are living in a society which is founded on immorality and an absence of ethics. This is not what makes for a civilisation.

Source: The Hindu : Arts / Magazine : Many voices of history
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/magazine/article3261226.ece
Date Visited: Tue Apr 03 2012 19:21:24 GMT+0200 (CEST)

In recent decades, deforestation and landscape change from the construction of dams, intensified agriculture, timber plantations and mining for bauxite and other minerals in the Northern Eastern Ghats has negatively impacted communities. It has resulted in non-availability or decrease in availability of forest produce. This has manifested in the lack of trees for building houses, unavailability of gum karaya Sterculia urens, kunkudukaaya Sapindus emarginatus, and honey as the larger gum and nut yielding and beehive preferred trees like Adina cordifolia and Dalbergia sissoo have been cut down. They now need to travel greater distances to access bamboo and other forest produce. The death of toddy palm trees, because toddy tapping was no longer practiced, has also been observed by communities.

Source: “Displaced from the hills: Livelihoods of tribal communities in Eastern Ghats under threat” by Vikram Aditya (Down to Earth, 24 February 2021)
URL: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/forests/displaced-from-the-hills-livelihoods-of-tribal-communities-in-eastern-ghats-under-threat-75657
Date visited: 23 March 2021

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