WHOSE KNOWLEDGE IS IT ANYWAY

ABSTRACTTraditional knowledge refers to the knowledge developed by indigenous communities,passed from generation to generation. The conflict between modern scientific knowledgeand traditional knowledge systems has always existed. As a country that is rich in bothtraditional as well as modern knowledge, India has witnessed multiple clashes betweenindigenous communities and the state. However, the implementation of the LPG policieshas led to a hypervisibility of the ‘growth approach’ and an invisibility of traditionalknowledge systems. The current Knowledge Age that we are in demands a modernscientific approach, resulting in traditional knowledge taking a back seat. This has led tothe exploitation of communities belonging to the informal sector and outside the realm ofthe ‘modern economy’, by deeming their knowledge as inferior, and the scientificknowledge of elite industrialists as superior. Nevertheless, it is important tonote that the neoliberal economic policies and the consequent abundance of informationand awareness has given rise to a new form of politics which does not allow for thecomplete ignorance of the struggles that are faced by these marginalized communities.Indigenous communities are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and methods tounify and resist their exploitation and the dismissal of their knowledge systems. Whilethe New Economic Policy has certainly created a whole world of profitable opportunities,it is important to realize the cost at which this profit has arrived. As a policymaker, theseare important factors to keep in mind while trying to create a society that is in alignmentwith values which form the foundation of a modern society, sensitive to the needs ofindigenous communities. The content of this paper draws heavily upon secondary dataand real world examples, integrated with concepts that are prevalent in literaturesurrounding struggles of indigenous communities as well as neoliberaleconomic theory. This paper aims to critically examine the impact of the 1991Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization Reforms on the traditional knowledgesystems of India's indigenous communities, the nature of exploitation and conflict andraise pertinent questions about the future of these traditional knowledge systems in aglobalized India.PAPERThe conflict between traditional knowledge and “modern scientific” knowledge hasalways existed. In the 19 th  and 20 th  centuries, there was a clear consensus that formal andorganized “scientific knowledge” had a clear hegemony over all non-science forms ofknowledge. This assumption remained largely unchallenged throughout the 20 th  century.The emergence of the neoliberal regime (the base for which were the 1991 economicreforms) reinforced the hegemony, and emphasized how knowledge and information hadplayed a key role in shaping industries and markets. This was unlike previous economicregimes, where just science and production no longer played a pivotal role in shaping theeconomy. However, it would be rather unwise to imply that with the advent ofglobalization, hierarchies of knowledge systems have dissipated completely. Knowledgehas now become the most important commodity which can be traded, and this has led tothe cultural exploitation of indigenous communities to supplement the profitmakingagendas of corporations. This argument will be further illustrated using a case study,further on in this paper.The hegemony of knowledge systems, which occurred as a result of globalization,contributed extensively to the exploitation of indigenous communities by deeming theirknowledge to be inferior, and the scientific knowledge of elite industrialists to besuperior. Certain groups of industrialists, in their quest for profit inevitably end updestroying the livelihoods of indigenous communities by disregarding their traditionalknowledge systems. A more scientific notion of growth and development, which will leadto economic profit, is then imposed upon these communities.It is important to understand the significance that traditional knowledge has onindigenous communities. The knowledge possessed by a particular community plays akey role in creating its identity. More often than not, traditional knowledge is passedinformally, taking the form of folklore, songs, rituals, etc. This knowledge is largely to dowith agriculture, handicrafts and medicine, and has accumulated over several generationsowing to their interaction with their environment. The knowledge that indigenouscommunities (that are a part of the informal economy) possess is not only critical for thesurvival of the community and the preservation of their identity, but also provides a richknowledge base for people outside the informal economy. Modern scientific knowledge,on the contrary, is organized and formal. Over time, it has also come to achieve the statusof a “superior” knowledge system.It was assumed that after the 1991 reforms, India would follow the path to “economicdevelopment” as laid out by the industrialized countries. Since India is a developingcountry, it was perceived to have a scarcity of knowledge. However this was not the case,as this paper will gradually explain, there have been several instances of indigenouscommunities being able to sustain themselves by relying solely on their own knowledge.Modern scientific knowledge was considered more useful for industrial economicactivities, as it was more widely accepted in the international markets. This growthoriented approach made scientific knowledge “hyper-visible”. Growth and profit becamethe focal point of the economic activities post 1991, and western science was perceivedas the most remunerative knowledge system. As more importance and attention wasbeing given to modern science, less government funding and public regard was given totraditional knowledge systems, paving the way for the invisibility of traditionalknowledge systems.The renowned economists Srivastava and Kothari argue that “Entire ways of life, cultureand thought have been and continue to be disrupted and often uprooted by the forceswhose best intellectual defense is modern mainstream economics.” (Srivastava &Kothari, 2012 : 331) The 1991 New Economic Policy had a multifaceted impact, not juston the Indian economy, but also the Indian society and its elements. Globalization hasfavored a few, in whose hands wealth and privilege is concentrated. Traditionalcommunities, which form a significant part of India's population have not reaped thebenefit of this economic growth. India's experience with globalization has largely beencatastrophic to indigenous communities, the natural environment and traditionalknowledge systems.One such example of an indigenous community that came under threat is the DongriaKondhs, a tribal community based in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. The Dongria Kondhshave a tremendous wealth of knowledge and their traditional knowledge base coversnature, soil, forests, land and biodiversity conservation. However, industrialists,supported by the government had other, 'economically profitable plans' for the NiyamgiriHills. In 2003, Vedanta, a British based company signed a MoU with the Government ofOrissa through which they set up a plant and planned to extract bauxite from the hills. Bydoing so, the livelihoods, land and culture of the Dongria Kondhs was under threat.Vedanta discredited the traditional knowledge systems of the indigenous community,especially pertaining to conservation of land and biodiversity, by deeming it 'primitive'.Moreover, the industrialists claimed that these traditional knowledge systems were inneed of 'upgradation', which could be facilitated only by modern scientific knowledge.The Dongria Kondhs refused to accept money as compensation. They were of the opinionthat no amount of money could reimburse the damage done as a consequence of themining project – if the rocks were taken away and the hills were mined, the river woulddry up, the medicinal plants would die, and the entire community, whose identity andknowledge depended upon the hills, which they considered sacred, would be destroyed.There are multiple instances where indigenous communities lost their fight againstindustries and governments, who seek to 'develop' the people and the land. In this case,the Dongria Kondhs were unfazed by the promises of a luxurious compensation and‘better’ livelihoods. The community united and put up a mass struggle of a magnitudethat neither Vedanta, nor the government had anticipated. Globalization had helped thecause of the indigenous community as the media began to cover this issue and campaignswere launched against Vedanta, urging people to disinvest till the company withdrew itsoperations from Niyamgiri Hills. The Dongria Kondhs had appealed to James Cameron,the director of Avatar, to support their cause by explaining that several parallels could bedrawn from the fictional struggles in the movie, to the real life struggles of the DongriaKondhs against Vedanta. Eventually, the movement began to gain the support ofcelebrities and the masses and took off with huge momentum. The Supreme Court ruledin favor of the Dongria Kondhs, and their environment, by asking Vedanta to discontinueall operations in the hills. This case was a landmark in the rights of indigenouscommunities and their struggle to preserve their identity, culture, and knowledge systems.This was also one of the first occasions where the community was able to mobilize theirefforts on a scale which allowed them to win against a corporate giant (which was backedby the state).Economic prosperity is not synonymous with intellectual prowess. Often, the poorestsections of society, which have no access to the basic educational resources, are moreenlightened than those sections of society that have been largely influenced by modernscience. It is so because these marginalized groups live in conditions that no formaleducational institution can teach about. Moreover, the conditions under which thesecommunities live demand that they be adaptable and dynamic in their ways of living. Inthis sense, their knowledge and capabilities (which are characterized by dynamism)cannot be discounted just because of their economic standing. In the words of AnilGupta, a renowned scholar known for his dedication towards grassroots innovations,“The minds on the margin are not the marginal minds”. (Gupta, 2009)Finally, while it is important that traditional knowledge systems and marginalizedcommunities achieve the recognition that they deserve, it is equally crucial to realize thatin these communities notions such as patriarchy and caste are part of the convention.. Infact in many of these communities, caste plays a pivotal role especially in the knowledgenetworks of weavers and artisans.For all the trouble that these communities had to go through after the implementation ofthe 1991 reforms, it must be mentioned that globalization played a key role in theexchange of ideas such as gender equality, human rights issues and notions such asfairness and transparency in the functioning of governments. It also helped in thereportage and redressal of violations of human rights. In a truly globalized world, thesenotions which ensure equality and equity, play a major role in determining the way localinstitutions work and what opportunities are available for the people.As a policy-maker, the integration of traditional knowledge systems in the public sphereposes a rather important and challenging question. How do we achieve a balance betweentraditional knowledge systems and modern notions of fairness and equality, whileattempting to be inclusive? There is no easy answer to this question and it seems that inthis respect, India must rise to the challenge aim to be an example for the world to follow.

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