WINTER ISSUE

The contiguity between humans and nature: A personal note

Our existence as humans can be rooted within the contesting theories of evolution and creation, along with numerous philosophical attributes. The scientific discourse can only do so much as to help us understand life but the meaning of life can be deciphered only through our beliefs and cultural system. The Earth is endowed with rich flora and fauna, and varied ecosystems which contribute to the kaleidoscopic range of landscapes which we refer to as nature on this planet. Since time immemorial, we have been closely associated with nature, our forefathers and foremothers were hunters and gatherers but eventually succeeded in cultivating wild plants and domesticating the wild animals. But the efficiency with which this was achieved varied from people of one continent to the other. Also, the pace at which this achievement was mastered, and the availability of resources decided the pace of development of that particular region. Along with these developments came about the establishment of a cultural system, always in a flux even to this day. In this cultural system, language is an important strand as it founded the basis of communication, an art that distinctly separated us from the other living creatures on this planet. With our emergence as indispensable species in this world, we have reached a stage where the world is booming with our ingenious creations but is also ailing with an immense anthropogenic pressure.   

Presently, there is an unprecedented scale of development which has unleashed upon us the reality of global warming. The sky rocketing pollution rate, vanishing of forests, extinction of species, other species falling into the endangered categories, submergence of coastal areas, mounds of plastic waste and break out of pandemics, have pushed us into the glaring urgency of doing whatever we can to preserve nature and restore the health of the planet. This has brought about the cementing of conservation efforts throughout the world. But there were some fractures that were detected in this paradigm of conservation. As most conservation efforts established the dichotomy between nature and humans; nature [as the environment around us] and humans are thus observed as seperate entities now. 

Fortress conservation is given emphasis albeit the efforts in its implementation vary in what we refer to as the Global north and the Global south. In India, a nation which falls under the category of a developing country, the scenario is no different. An immense amount of importance is given to the fortress conservation of wildlife wherein the local people are displaced as they are considered to be the external appendage which can be done away with. It was during my postgraduate studies in the School of Human Ecology, and during one of the field works as a part of the rigorous system of field based learning, that I got an opportunity to visit the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary has been assigned to conserve the Asiatic Lion after the rigorous displacement of hundreds of Adivasi[s] residing within the sanctuary. When embarked upon our journey to the sanctuary in different vehicles that we were allotted to travel in, the landscape was surreal, it was for the first time that I had seen the forests in a semi-arid region. The forest was lively with the rainfall that the region had received during monsoon at that particular year and we also encountered bada talab, the seasonal lake, which came to life only if it received rain. We hiked in certain patches of the sanctuary but the hot humid weather made it a difficult task to keep up with the pace. 

After having completed certain miles of walking, we reached the dilapidated houses which were once a part of the village occupied by the displaced villagers. These abandoned houses were covered with creepers and grasses. One of the most prominent structures I observed was the door that still stood tall and erect amidst all the greeneries and demolition around. At that particular instant, I couldn’t process much but it was only later in retrospect when I met the displaced communities and read more about them that I understood how the conservation efforts had been entrenched with the dichotomy of nature and humans, and that the action in conserving some pristine nature and the Asiatic lion had come at a cost. It was the local people, the Adivasi[s], whose future was gambled in the larger interest of the ‘lion, larger group of people and nature.

After having basked in the richness of the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary which lies in a drought prone region, we headed towards a resettled village. Upon seeing us, a bunch of curious alien looking faces, the children gathered around to observe us. We interacted with the villagers and quickly made some acquaintances. The huts in the village were aligned in rows and had some hand pumps with no water. The villagers narrated how they were robbed of their fertile land and provided with rocky patches of field which was uncultivable. The villagers lamented over their loss of livelihoods and homes, nevertheless they exuded only warmth and generosity. When it was time to return, along with some of my friends I was given a handful of sesame, the only bit of crop that they had harvested a little, that season. In reminiscence, I still feel the depth of pain and grief when I remember those interactions, I vividly remember the household which I had chosen to interact with, there were two women sitting in front of their hut, and one of them looked dazed and in pain. She had just delivered a malnourished baby and seemed to be in need of some immediate medical assistance. The glaring absence of access to some basic needs like water and medicine is a reality that some still experience and live with.    

In this anthropogenic epoch, we have transformed the face of the earth and have reached the highest pinnacle of civilization. But we have also decimated the homes of many living creatures and removed them from their existence. Despite having realized that the resources are finite in our world and the only way of survival is through sustainable development and mutual co-existence with all the species and the natural environment. We still do not take the process of preserving nature and the wild species seriously. We ought to remember that we cannot move ahead by drawing a distinct dichotomy between nature and humans, for our existence is rooted in nature. While occupying spaces from where we have access to rich resources and means of living, we shouldn’t be blind to the needs and the presence of indigenous people like the Adivasi[s]. The indigenous people hold the traditional ecological knowledge which can only empower our strive to achieve the goals of conservation. Cutting off the autochthones from the land that they associate with is tantamount to endangering any other species.

We surely cannot have a world without life, but since life itself has so many forms, I believe we have to actively make endeavours to preserve and conserve its every strand. The strands that I am referring to is not just the wildlife, the pristine nature but also the cultural, social and political systems, keeping in mind that every landscape has its own unique features and its own clustered local communities. That we cannot have a blanket measure of conservation. Each of these strands make up the rich tapestry which has lost its luster and value, all we can do is contribute in some form or the other to restore and conserve nature with all its life forms and the intangible attributes which give meaning to these forms. Also keeping in mind how vulnerable we truly are, with the onslaught of the current pandemic due to the novel coronavirus, nature can work in its own way and exterminate us all. Then what would the world be without us, the most enigmatic life form on this earth!

About the author:  Nidhirma Moktan strongly believes in the power of writing and considers it as an art that she discovered in herself during her post-graduation learning. For her, writing is a therapy that anyone can practise. Reading is another avenue she loves and in which she finds solace. She is in a constant strive towards discovering joys in small and varied activities like trekking, gardening, pot making, embroidery, cooking and interacting with people. Professionally, she is a junior research fellow at a global non-profit organisation which ardently focuses on interdisciplinary knowledge generation and sustainability. Her research interest lies in social, and political ecology. 

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