Lessons from bastar: Excellence , environment, ethics, equity, education and empathy
When physical, cultural and social environment of a region indicates enormous opportunities for learning and development, quality of the environment for governance becomes the pivot for future choices. In Bastar, we saw many examples of excellence, which were rooted in its natural and socio-cultural environment. Can we conserve biological diversity and physical environment without paying simultaneous attention to institutions which so to say, format hard disk of mind of both the individuals and the communities?
Let me illustrate examples of excellence woven into local resources and institutions. . Sampat lal bhngiram sahu, a fifteen year old boy brought a collection of 115 plants with their uses, highest in this shodh yatra. However, will he qualify to be a forest guard or official? Provided of course he does not drop out ( of which the ratio is quite high in this area long with high demand for education at community level).
Sukaluram of markabeda was an outstanding wood-carver recognized by the community locally. He made sculptures of wood of desi mango and other trees. Bula bhai was recalled for making beautiful sculptures on samdhi sthal of outstanding people. Dasu ram and Budhu ram lohar were the only one left in the entire stretch of 175 km who still retained the traditional technology for smelting iron ore to make iron ( said to be of high quality, deserving further investigation).
Devdutt from Ekda had trained a whole generation of prajpatis in clay pottery and sculpture. Second and third generation of learners were living side by side honing their skill and trying to achieve the excellence that he had achieved, recognized by former President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma. But tragedy was that an academy could not emerge around the place where Devdutt lived. He might not live very long. Have we made the video based instructional material of his skills, and key indicators used by him to judge the quality of process? Obviously not. That alas will not happen till the polity of the nation, aspiring to be a knowledge society, will continue to treat them as unskilled labour, as la NREGS. Erosion of knowledge, skills and values took place a rate, never so high in the history of mankind, as in the current generation and this is not unfortunately an issue that many will visit on world environment day.
Let me recall another example of excellence blended with environment manifested through numerous recipes of curries, drinks, sherbets and other dishes. We relished dishes made of koliari, karmatha, chirota, behar, kheda bhaji, tikhur etc., besides health drink made of minor millets like mandwi. There were many local rice varieties, on the brink of extinction, of having special food and medicinal properties.
Unless we build upon this rich knowledge system, and reciprocate their generosity in sharing so much knowledge, would not they feel shortchanged. If equity suffers, can empathy really manifest? Will the environment and the excellence really be nurtured? We have to rethink our approach to economically poor and knowledge and culture rich regions like Bastar. Else, state will not be able to go beyond just the law and order approach. Let us bring order into things, law will be upheld then.
Anil K Gupta