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Integrating Ecology, Economy, and Ethnicity: Archaeological Anthropology

May 16, 2022 Authored by: Dr. Shikha Rai

Abstract

India has a vast cultural legacy, of tangible or intangible heritage, but the fundamental problem lies in a broader gap between academicians and laypeople. The question arises here why do historians or archaeologists not able to connect with a layperson? What is the purpose of reading and writing history, excavating archaeological sites, and using crores of rupees to conserve monuments? These are some of the burning questions which I feel everybody thinks about sometimes, like history and heritage for whom?Apart from political agenda, do we ever think about the community’s engagement in knowing their origin and trying to preserve it for the next generation?   The distance between past and present is so huge that governmental policies, whether in education or public administration, are wasted without taking calculated steps. So, what can we do as academicians and policymakers to solve this problem? This paper is an attempt to incorporate heritage, economy, ecology, and culture, making sense for laypeople.

Al-Baydha Project transforming the desert into Dry Savanah Grassland

Introduction

Three key issues dominate the present day’s world: unemployment, ecological crisis, and hunger, and these three issues relate to each other. We are following the western way of education, which is meant to be failed in the Indian context. We are providing new forms of degrees after degrees without having any practical implications for these subjects on the ground. For example, I have done my doctoral research on the topic of “Phenomena of Urbanization in Middle Ganga Plain: from 600 BCE to 300 BCE” if someone asks me what the relevance of this topic to solve current issues is, probably I can suggest some points like diversity in forest management, water management system, craft or skill specialization can produce employment to people and how to develop a methodology for any community to have back up for bad year economy. But imagine a student striving for work, and you are teaching themancient Indian history, culture, and archaeology. What will be the first question in their mind? Am I going to get a job with this degree? What is the relevance of this subject to take up, and how can I contribute to solving the present day’s problems with the help of this subject? Here we need an integrated approach. After completing their studies, each student may live with at least one traditional community to know what it means to be hunger, face drought-like situations and ecological crises, and further understand what challenges the communityfaces for their survival?

As Wade Davis (2009) emphasises on the integration of the biological sphere with the ethnosphere for solving the necessity of any community.  His suggestion derived from his first-hand knowledge of living with communities in different neighbourhoods, and realising the gap between government policies and ground-level issues with close observation.

He further mentions,“the ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all that we, as wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species, have created”. Why do we have this obsession with bringing everybody into the mainstream education system? Did these traditional communities ask for this? In the name of increasing illiteracy, we are trying to teach everybody English, math, and science, but what about their way of learning, gratitude towards mother earth, forest products, and nature of sacredness, which they pass generation after generation as their heritage? What is our plan for this earth? Is it making everybody look alike, with their language, food, culture, and the same kind of forest and plants? Probably we want to create an artificial world. Still, this artificial world will not have a soul, what we will do with such a worldview, apart from increasing clashes, insecurity, exploitation, and a world full of ego. Is this our plan for humanity? Let’s talk about three fundamental issues of the present world.

  1. Ecological Crisis:

The world faces the three critical issues on the ecological front, which are soil degradation, climatic change, and global warming. In the name of economic revolution with the help of science and advanced technology, industrialists, businessman, and other elites are in the race to become the first richest person in the world ignoring those suffering the consequence of this model. People are dependent on forests, animals, or natural resources for their economic well-being. Deforestation for setting up new industrial activities is exposing soil directly to sunlight.In regions like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra rainfall is reducing every year.  Further, due to the deforestation process, rain is washing out soil and creating a flood-like situation and in summer,the entire area suffers from insufficient water to drink.   India, which was an agriculture-based society, with farmers as the backbone of agriculture, and when they commit suicide, it is an alarming situation becausea significant portion of its economy depends on villages.

A decline in surplus agriculture and an economic crisis is slowly emerging in rural India; the urban dwellers rely on villagers for crops, and this dependency ratio is much higher than crop producers. Secondly, chemical-based fertilizers affect soil nutrition value and rapidly move towards desertification.  What will our future leaders do in situations with only bookish knowledge and have not faced any reality? What kind of policies will they make?

The solution to this problem lies within the problem itself. The farmers know their soil needs; theyunderstand the suitability of soil for particular crop produce.  Monocropping agriculture declines the fertility rate of the soil due toinsufficient natural nutrition, and again the short-termidea of profit prolongs the malnutrition in the soil. Is it not possible to give freedom to farmers, to use their practical knowledge and community or local governing agency will take care of the market so that we can save our indigenous crop species which is suitable for soil and can help them economically because India has diverse soil types and each type has its kind of seeds and crops, drought-resilient to surplus food? In earlier times in India, each community used to have its granary, which they used to store their surplus produce, to use in a bad year (drought-like situation), for community-based rituals, and marriage purposes, so that the whole community could participate equally in any function on a local level. It was not about individuals; it was about complete community involvement living together in one village.

  • Unemployment and Skill Development:

The Indian education system produces many degree holder students each year, but they don’t have employment as they have invested their whole life in books and running behind the 99 percentage marks; they have not learned any skill, even mentally, they are so fragile that if they cannot secure good marks in exams, they commit suicide. India has the largest youth population,and, in this case, we should have the largest prosperous economy, but because of futile education, our youth is frustrated, directionless, and depressed. What kind of youth force are we producing every year who are part of the problems and not the solution for the country? When I used to teach at one of the central universities in West Bengal, generally, every student used to ask what the purpose of marks is if we are not getting knowledge. What will we do with this piece of paper because the precious time between 19 to 23 is now wasted in collecting this piece of paper, and we have not understood the relevance of this learning? It is a pity on the name of education government is giving fellowships and scholarships to make the student independent for five or six years. After that, what will that student do once their college is over?

Skill development is the key to education, not information because we have data everywhere with the advent of science. Still, we don’t know how to use this information for our betterment. As each problem needs a different kind of approach to solve, classroom education is giving them an etic system to look at issues with an outsider approach rather than any personal involvement. For example, when teaching temple architecture, we use reference books, its plan, elevation, and its physicality, but what is missing is the soul, its functionality, and the meaning of sacredness. The idea of sacred cannot be defined in the classroom without experiencing it, exploring it, and understanding its importance. Every student should look into the deeper meaning of customs, traditions, and rituals to preserve their own community’s tradition rather than look at it as a more excellent and inferior tradition based on caste, race, social structure, and present-day threats.

  • Food Crisis:

Any living organism on earth has the fundamental right to have food, whether an animal, plant, or human. Still, disaster is inevitable when your education teaches you to look at a living organism as a resource rather than an inseparable part of your existence. The above two points, discussed in the previous section, are interconnected with this issue. In India, we had pranic foods, which help elevate your prana (inner energy), and non-pranic foods, which reduce your pranic and physical capability. At which age, what you should eat, how much you should eat this consciousness is now lost, and we are accumulating heaps of disease without understanding the cause, looking for a prescription from doctors. In India, Toda and Kanni communities spend their whole day on one bowl of honey and don’t need anything in between. Theylived in forest regions; theyused leaves for energy, less cooked food, and many leaves, roots, and honey from the forest, but imagine how your forest is under government control, now their natural food has gone. Theydepend on cooked food. Most of the time,their whole inbuilt immunity is changing. They are getting exposed to new chronic elements. Is this our dream of development? Most of the time, all crises are artificial, and our incapability to react and think. Previously in deep forest areas of India, there was no facility for hospitals; each community has its healthcare system depending on climatic conditions and locally available herbs. With the introduction of allopathic medicines, now traditional herbs, roots, and other types of treatment are vanishing. More and more tablets we have for disease and more diseases are increasing.

Bharat Embroidery of Dholavira

After discussing some of the critical issues of present-day society, as I am trained as an archaeologist, and most of the time we deal with the past organizations, I would like to share some insights into what I have learned in these 19 years while learning, visiting communities, attending conferences and teaching at university, for sustainable development of any given society.

  1. Don’t unnecessarily educate with your idea of education; each community hasits way of teaching its younger generation the beauty of each different society. They are intact with ethnicity, ecology, and economy. It will be great to help them with genuine problems.
  2. Can we return their mother earth to them so that they can protect it in a better manner as they were doing it generation after generation?
  3. Each community knows about conserving rainwater. Some make bunds, some with the help of terrace farming and digging ponds, and it was the responsibility of the village and community, not government officials.
  4. Restoring the sacred groves.
  5. Let them continue with traditional knowledge like community granary, sharing rituals, metallurgy, craft specialization, and medicinal knowledge; government can help them create markets and online store services.
  6. Let them construct their traditional houses. They don’t need concrete dwellings.
  7. Regenerative agriculture can help with the food crisis, going from monocropping to indigenous crops.
  8. An agroforestry system can manage stock management and grazing land to solve malnutrition, soil degradation, and the climatic cycle.

Probably these points can help us in restoring our age-old traditions by engaging local communities and looking at their eco and cultural system through their lenses.


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