Conservation, conflict and creativity: some more Lessons from 27th Shodhyatra


Every time we walk through the villages, forests and the fields, we
are struck by the culturally diverse institutions of conservation but
also of conflict.  While walking through the Ranchi region from Silly
to Sundru early this month, we were impressed by a large number of
¬¬old trees all through the way in the villages.  But, in the forest,
such old trees were rare to find.  The only other Shodhyatra in which
we found so many old trees along the way was in Anantnag, J&K.  The
forest in Arku valley and in Kangra did have old trees.  If readers
could send information about more than 100 year old trees in cities
and villages, imagine what kind of database will emerge.  And if
children are made the custodian of these trees, we would have created
a conservation ethic which indifferent bureaucracy would find
difficult to uproot.

As we walked along, we met a group of labourers who asked us about the purpose of the Shodhyatra.  We explained that we look for innovators
and traditional knowledge holders and honour them at their doorstep.
We also looked for creative children and women who have extraordinary
imagination.  While taking leave, we gave a copy of Soojhbhooj, a
Hindi version of Honey Bee newsletter to each one of them.  They
returned all the copies except one saying that they would share one
copy, we could give the rest to others.  Such are the sanskars of
frugality.   Not often, people refuse gifts which are unasked for.
Several times we were stopped by the villagers to share their
knowledge, music and stories.  It seemed that for long, an engagement
of this kind was being missed.

We met a 99 year old mota dada whose voice and posture were extremely energetic.  He had deep knowledge of climate change, older varieties
of rice and the uncultivated vegetables.  He also triggered a very
interesting discussion on non-chemical pest control in paddy.  In
several villages, while farmers had taken to chemical pesticides, the
knowledge about plants which could help in controlling pests was not
completely lost, even if the practice was.  We shared an insight we
learnt in Kutchch Shodhyatra when a farmer had summed up our concern
by saying, “what you are saying is that all those plants which are not
eaten by cattle because of toxicity are potential source of
pesticide”.  Such a simple summary depicts the wisdom, which many
communities still have, in abundance.

Dinanath Koeri is an extraordinary herbal bonesetter whose reputation
in joining fractures was much respected in the region.  His approach
was quite different in many respects from the modern orthopedic and it
would be useful to have a scientific investigation of his approach.
Before parting, we prayed for his wellbeing and complimented his
generous spirit of selfless service.  He stopped us for a moment and
said, “if you want to pray, pray that I get to train at least one
disciple before I die”.    He had four sons and we asked why didn’t he
train at least one of his sons.  His reply was a lesson in institution
building.  He said that he could have taught his younger son but
knowing his tendency to make money from everything, he would have used
this knowledge for the same purpose.  He did not want that.  He would
wish that those who can pay may be allowed but those who cannot should
not be denied the benefit of such knowledge.  Such are the knowledge

In Hazam village, we met Tuladevi, a midwife who was extremely angry
over the practices of modern gynecologists for child delivery.  She
made three forceful points which have already triggered a discussion
in the medical fraternity:  [a] the umbilical cord should be cut after
around ten minutes when it stops pulsating, [b] the child should be
delivered in dark, dimly lit environment to prevent shock and [c] the
squatting position should be preferred for delivery instead of lying
position.  She claimed that low eyesight of many children and fearful
nature could be because of neglect of time tested practices.  Some of
the western scholars have already accepted the logic of these
practices.  May be Indian practitioners will pay attention when it
comes as a western advice.  There is a need for thorough scientific
review of evidence from around the world to let the science underlying
some of the traditional practices be recognized for common good.  In
the same region, we did find some of the retrograde practices of not
feeding the mother for two days and thus not giving the colustrum milk
to the children affecting the immunological profile of the children.
Some midwifes did recognize the importance of giving colustrum milk
within first few hours and the days.   With 50 per cent children of
India under five years of age malnourished, we cannot delay reforms in
dysfunctional traditions just as the functional ones must be carried
forward. Anil K Gupta