What is life? There is no one particular answer to this. Our existence can be rooted to the contesting theories of evolution and creation, along with numerous philosophical attributes. The scientific discourse helps to 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 that we refer to as nature on this planet. Since time immemorial, we have been closely associated with nature. Our forefathers were hunters and gatherers but eventually succeeded in cultivating the wild plants and domesticating the wild animals. But the efficiency with which this was achieved varies 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 that is always in flux even to this day. In this cultural system, language is an important strand for it founded the basis of communication and is an art that distinctly separates us from the other living creatures on this planet. With us emerging as an indispensable species in this world, we have reached a stage where the world is booming with our ingenious creations but is also ailing with immense anthropogenic pressure.
Presently there is an unprecedented scale of development that has unleashed upon us the reality of global warming. The skyrocketing pollution rate, the vanishing of forests, extinction of species and many other species falling into the threatened 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. Most conservation efforts established the dichotomy between nature and humans, treating nature as the environment around us and we the people as a separate entity.
The fortress conservation is given emphasis albeit the efforts in its implementation vary in the first and the third world counties. In India which is a part of the developing countries, the scenario is no different. A lot 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 that can be done away with. During my Master’s course in the School of Human Ecology, we had a rigorous system of field-based learning. It was during one of this fieldwork that I got an opportunity to visit the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary assigned as the second home in India to conserve the ‘Asiatic Lion’ after the rigorous displacement of hundreds of Adivasis residing within the sanctuary. We 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. We were fortunate to encounter some wild animals. The forests were lively with the rainfall that the region had received during the monsoon at that particular year and we also encountered badatalab, 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 as I was in amazement at the landscape around me and the richness of the place. But it was later in retrospect when I met the displaced people 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 Adivasis, whose future was gambled and decided upon in the larger interest of the ‘lion, larger group of people and the nature.’
Having basked in the richness of the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary which lies in a drought-prone region, we headed towards a resettled village. Seeing us, a bunch of curious alien-looking faces, the children gathered around to observe us. We were to interact with the villagers and quickly made our moves to make 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 the field where they could not carry out any cultivation. The villagers lamented over their loss of livelihoods and homes. But there was a certain energy that exuded from them, they were welcoming and so very generous. 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 reminiscent, I still feel the depth of pain and grief that I felt when I met some of the Adivasis who were beyond the destitute that I had ever seen so closely. I still vividly remember the household with 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.
The intricate arrangement and the positionality of the leaves of a tree ensure that every single of them receives sunlight. But in our world, we do not have a mechanism to ensure that each living creature lives and thrives, for it is indeed the survival of the fittest. 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 existence. We have 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. But in the process of preserving nature and the wild species 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. Also, occupying the spaces from where we have access to resources and means of living shouldn’t make us blind watchers to the presence of indigenous people like the Adivasis.
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 every one of its strands. The strands that I am referring to is not just the wildlife, the pristine nature but the cultural, social and political systems, keeping in mind that every landscape has unique features and the local communities, and we cannot have blanket measures of conservation. Each of these strands makes up the rich tapestry that has lost its lustre 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 not forgetting how vulnerable we 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 writer:
Nidhirma 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 that ardently focuses on interdisciplinary knowledge generation and sustainability. Her research interest lies in social, and political ecology.