In this article we will discuss about the prehistoric India and its modernization.
Our environment is governed by laws of nature which essentially remain unchanged over time. Culture, on the other hand, is a human construct and hence defies the possibility of being governed by any law. Yet one cannot claim that nature and culture are mutually exclusive domains. In fact every human community has its own specific perception of what constitutes nature or natural landscape.
Thus, nature-culture relationship is both dichotomous as also mutually supportive. The term Ecosystem was coined to basically refer to this interdependent relationship. A rapid scanning of human history studied through prehistoric archaeology combined with an ethnological awareness of the impact of human endeavour can demonstrate how culture has been able to interact with nature through time.
If we closely look at the archaeological discoveries made so far, we can clearly see the constant urge of better adaptation sought by man ever since his origin. As early as late Pleistocene (40,000 B.C.) an attempt of power amplification and subsequently its perfection is visible. Attempts to gradually perfect the harnessing of nature’s elasticity culminate into bow and arrow by 10,000 B.C.
Human evolution at some stage had enabled man to develop the concept of ‘future’, as an eventuality that follows the ‘present’. Possibly this realization alone must have hastened the ability in him to create a storage facility. Acquiring of this ability releases him from being tied down to a given environment with a constant preoccupation for resources for survival.
These achievements made human being the most effective predator on earth. Storage ability now could enable him to move to newer areas of ecobase after exhausting the resources of the chosen area. Archaeological and paleontological evidences show that he ventured into the temperate belt around 1.8 m. yrs ago and this must have been possible because of his ability to store food for immediate future.
The recent discovery of Dmanissi in Georgia demonstrates one such corridor of early erectus intrusion in Europe. Temperate areas are characterized by a severe shortage of plant for almost 5 months of the year. This further helped man to strengthen his ‘knowledge’ about future. Consequently planning for the future becomes a possibility for him.
It is only after having perfected these strategies that man could take to sedentary settlements. And this took him almost 4.90 million years of striving and thereby creating a cumulative knowledge. If one attempts some sort of grading of Nature-Culture relationship during this phase of human history it could be labeled as elemental, that is, where culture does not draw out as much from nature as to create any kind of dent in its power of regeneration.
Subsequent to sedentism (Circa 6000 B.C.) man makes his first attempt to increase his quantum of withdrawal from nature. Specific plants and animals were selected out of nature and domesticated as a measure to create a security of supply without having to constantly migrate.
Thus, for the first time human artificial selection started replacing natural selection which was one of the major instruments of law of nature. This anthropogenic component of nature was also not static. With exponential growth of human population this process of man taking out a progressively larger slice of nature for human selection is required.
One of the many impacts of this in the natural environment is the habitat fragmentation. This, in turn, can trigger severe genetic consequences in the bio-diversity of ecology. All these affect the cultural imperatives of the community seeking adaptation. This brings about a fundamental alteration of goals.
Human psyche shifts from assessing whether there are sufficient plants to gather and animals to kill to now a changed concern for the propagation of the progeny of specific plants and animals. These ancient experiments in plant and animal husbandry could not have foreseen that they were actually laying the foundation for the nuclear age or a possible nuclear war a mere 10,000 years or just about 335 generations later.
Having briefly gone into the process by which nature and culture influence each other we might attempt to specify the term ‘modernity’ as well in order to place our delineation within a structured frame work. The concept of modernity that I propose to use here is not necessarily what will be meant by the concern of civil society but one which is constructed by the agencies of development.
This has essentially administered the ideas of freedom of choice in market economy. The carried over meaning of the term being anything and everything that opposes the ‘traditional;’ or ‘indigenous’ practices. The incentive that is brought about to motivate this change is the usual propaganda that tradition is static and backward. The approach to modernity, therefore, changes with time.
That is, under the pressure to change the tradition of say sixteenth century metamorphoses into culture of seventeenth century. But for the population in the seventeenth century it soon gathers the epithet of being traditional and hence requiring change in order to be progressive. The process of modernization, as such, is a dynamic one, although the speed and direction of change at every generation and every community might be essentially different.
The need of a change in resource retrieval capacity is triggered by several factors. Increase in population and decrease in the production because of change of climate are the two main causes of this. Such or similar changes in the production sector causes a total rearrangement of other cultural features.
Thus, a progressive motion of change is initiated and within a span of few thousand years human society changed from small egalitarian social groups of pre-sedentism days to stratified state societies. These are based upon complex organization and management of labour which soon enabled them to create urban centres.
A large segment of this labour was no longer directly involved in the quest of food. They were employed in such activities as social ordering, bureaucrats, traders and craftsmen. This initiates an altogether new level of human dependency which increased the demands on subsistence several folds. Obviously this progress to ‘modernity’ kept increasing human interference in nature’s rhythm causing new levels of ecological crises.
Almost every year a new technology is being developed in man’s attempt to maximize his subsistence power and for maintaining and servicing such technologies another set of technologies are required. Thus, one can see a variety of technologies surrounding us in day to day life.
These rapidly developing technologies may be making millions of things simpler for man but the social and ethical changes brought about by these changes have not been adequately investigated. In fact there is a tendency to categorically deny any deleterious effect of new technologies in the society or describe them as the price one must pay to be ‘modern’.
Mankind made more sweeping changes to Earth’s ecosystems in the second half of the 20th century than at any time in human history. These changes were made largely to meet the rapidly growing demand for ecosystem services such as food, fresh water, timber and fiber. In aggregate these changes have significantly enhanced human well-being but at an ever-increasing cost.
Many ecosystem services are now being degraded or used unsustainably with harmful consequences for the people. A major difficulty in fully assessing the costs and benefits of ecosystem changes is that many of the consequences of changes to ecosystem are slow to become apparent.
If we compare the level of human interaction with nature as it was in 1950 with today we will find that the amount of water impounded behind dams has increased almost four times. Earth’s principal cycles of water, carbon and nutrients have been irreversibly changed.
Concentration of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere is increasing at an alarming rate. Along with this the flow of phosphorous tripled in the recent years. One should naturally imagine that this high price paid by us has been able to wipe out hunger and misery for man.
Sadly the reality is farthest from it. More men are dying of hunger and disease today than before. Global warming is creating large scale climatic changes bringing about unforeseen miseries to man in many parts of the earth – including the ‘developed’ world.
It is, indeed, one of the biggest ironies of contemporary human societies that in spite of all our technological development and material abundance we find that the hunter-gatherers in the past were perhaps living a life in a much more satisfying and rewarding manner than most us do.
The silent and subtle way in which multinationals are pumping in the brand craze in the third world is another form of neo-colonialism. The middle class is slowly getting sucked into this scheme of the syndicate of the production mafia of the Occident resulting into farther unhappiness caused by the chase of a craze.
The urgent need of the day, as such, is to deliberate over the cardinal question of life style and level of human satisfaction. Obviously material abundance is possibly not the answer. Human culture is the product of a cognitive mosaic which gets constructed by the history of man’s successful adaptive strategies. In course of time numerous social, political and economic principles emerge to operationalize the smooth functioning of the society.
When an advanced technology impinges from outside on this system in equilibrium, the cognitive mosaic takes a long time to change. This can often create a cultural nostalgia and confusion of mind. The main instrument with which man combats ecological stress is culture, and confusion in this very instrument does not enable him to face newer changes meaningfully.
India is possibly one of the few countries in Asia which is so deeply ensconced within a cultural tradition which has not changed much for at least a millennium. The epicenter of this culture is its production system (agriculture or fishing) which has been entirely used for domestic consumption.
The mobility of the ecosystem services even within the country remained insignificant until the railways came into being. A strong ideological domain regulated the basic socioeconomic order and redistribution of produce within all the segments of the population.
The various segments that constituted a society might have varied from one community to another. However, the major groups which are usual in a peasant society are labour, servicing class, artisans and religious authorities. The latter also performs the function of non-secular or informal education.
This indigenous system functioned on trust and a historically constructed belief structure. Death and miseries were accepted as easily as achievements and success. For both these extremes were meant to be totally shared by the entire group. Thus the catch word for a good man has been one who has a philosophy of life which is not of “me and mine” but “we and ours.”
Whatever the merits and de-merits of this pattern of philosophy of life have been, the concept of modernity hits at the base of this approach. National policies shift the emphasis of the meaning of production from being only a subsistence base to deriving monetary power.
Loans are freely distributed and a simple climatic vagary brings the farmer to a situation where he is unable to pay back the loan. This kind of stress soon leads him to commit suicide when he is left with no alternatives to generate finances to repay. Market pressure and its commercial imperatives are the additional forces which have started changing the original agrarian society in India.
Perception of land-and waterscapes are influenced by cultural repertoires which in turn are influenced by knowledge production. Local and indigenous knowledge is important in conserving ecosystems and contributing to human well-being. The understanding of crop, forest and aquatic biodiversities lies in the oral history and cultural memories of indigenous and local communities.
Yet the pace of technological change, displacement for infra- structural projects which in turn results into large scale environmental modification tends to fragment the society. It pushes the people to alternate choices in economy which is not their own but imposed upon them by the development agencies. The people pushed into such alternate choices are unable to re-orient the other sub-systems of culture and as such become uprooted from traditional support system.
An example, here, might explain the effect of such changes. Favourable market conditions led to large scale commercialization of shrimp culture and expansion of shrimp farming in many parts of coastal Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh was once upon a time considered as the rice bowl of India.
Today most farmers in the coastal regions are cutting channels to bring sea water inside their agricultural fields to construct shrimp hatcheries. Local communities do not operate in a vacuum. They create multi-level alliances, adopt and adapt global influences to foster their own livelihood. They do this on the basis of their own cultural repertoires.
Comaroff (2000: 291- 343) had referred to this pattern of changes as ‘globalization’. Often this leads to an unholy chain of interest growing around this industry. The one who invests money for the machines and pumps and also the middle man mafia who trades these products are actually the most dominant persons in this economy.
This has contributed to the deterioration of water quality, loss of bio-diversity, soil degradation and decline in livestock and poultry production. Indifferent state policies and marketing procedure of any of the ecosystem services can cause damage to the production system. The recent experience in Vidarbha in northern Maharashtra is a classic case of state antipathy.
A bumper production of onion could not get a market with adequate price support and hence the produce was left to putrefy in the field. Consequently the farmers could raise no money to pay back their money lenders. Hundreds of farmers from this zone are known to have committed suicide in the past one year because of this debt trap.
The forest capital as also the ground water aquifers are the common resources of a nation. Yet intricate legislations and loosely executed laws have constantly eroded these capitals. Our forest cover has come down to 19.27 percent as against the minimum requirement of 33 percent, and even here the canopy density has decreased considerably in the last two decades.
In several parts of India the top aquifer water is already exhausted and this can be a fatal blow on the head of our agriculture. Fuel and fodder is another constraint gradually bringing pressure on our farmers with the emergence of the various policies of conservation. These trade-offs are rarely taken fully into account in the various decision making bodies. This is mainly due to sectoral nature of planning.
Further, many of these climatic effects impact in a much delayed manner and hence a planner can any how show partial success of the chosen policy for some time and thus recommend its continuation for the successive plan periods. It is also important to note that the planners form a class who are often buffered from the impacts of ecological degradation through their ability to purchase substitutes or to import products from other regions.
The common man, as such, is not only left with less and less access to products of ecosystem (i.e., food, fuel, water etc.) but on the top of it made to suffer the ills of climatic back-lash in full strength. Thus, while a majority suffers a series of ‘bites’ the privileged few can run away with a mere ‘bark’ following them.
The above will amply demonstrate that the scenario of 21st century India is, indeed, one similar to being at cross-roads. The informal education system of traditional India not only performed the function of socialization but imparted a large amount of moral and ethical value system – for the smooth functioning of the society. This kind of education system was an integral part of peasant culture.
The environment was introduced with stories where both inanimate objects as also animals and plants could speak. In fact- in many parts of India specific plants were even ascribed a gender in an effort to encompass them within the ambit of extended human society. For instance, ladies will cover their heads when they pass by a Neem tree (Azadiractanba indica) because Neem is male, while Peepal (Ficus religiosa) is taken as female.
The ecosystem services were taken as gifts from the gods that required regular propitiation. The beginning of secular or formal education filtered out most of this form of knowledge transfer. Issues which are not directly relevant to the society in an immediate sense forms the main thrust of this system.
Although in rural societies traditional knowledge system has not been totally replaced, in urban India formal system has been totally established as the only path to success in life. With the breaking of Joint Family and both parents being involved in outdoor economic activity there is an almost total decline of traditional knowledge transfer.
The youth of India brought up within this formal system suddenly faces a political and administrative system which is totally corrupt. They find no person in the horizon whom they can emulate and who can provide them with a value anchorage that they desperately need. Possibly this can explain the recent phenomenon of the resurrection of Gandhi.
A group of students from an elite college (St. Stephen’s) from Delhi has started a club called Yamuna to re-establish value education. Whether this generation can divorce hyper-consumerism by adopting Gandhiji’s advice of replacing greed by need is something one has to wait to see. But these youths do not hesitate to re-garb Gandhiji in their own type of hype- “Gandhiji is the rock-star of our generation!!”
Chemical pollutants are all around us and this includes water, food and air. This will possibly never change back to its earlier level of purity. Almost all, eatables and drinking water in India show traces of organochlorine pesticides, residues of DDT and its isomers, heptrachol and its expoxide and aldrin.
Many of these chemicals have direct impact on the digestive system, reproductive system, liver and kidneys. Exposed at young age these can even interfere with growth hormones. The almost near disappearance of Indian Vulture within a span of last 10 years was easily explained away by some as having been caused by a fatal virus.
But today we know that it is the use of an anti-inflammatory chemical called dichlofene usually given to cows which caused death by kidney failure in the vulture who eat the carcasses of these cows. Nobody could imagine that this simple introduction of a rather harmless chemical in the bovids is going to cause such a severe repercussion in the regeneration cycle of the ecosystem.
Along with this another form of health hazard is invisibly biting into our urban youth. Television viewing habit is substantially decreasing energy expenditure and getting hooked to fast food, ice cream and chocolate is increasing energy intake. This is causing an alarming proportion of juvenile obesity.
Over and above this stress physiology combines to bring in more dis-balance of body and mind. We know that first adrenaline and then epinephrin and non-epinephrin hormones are secreted whenever one faces stress situations such as an interview, examination or the like.
Today one can visualize the almost constant requirement of these otherwise emergency chemicals in the face of vehicular driving stresses over and above stresses caused by video games and thrillers so generously served by the small screen. This results into an over activation of kidneys as well as cardio-vascular functions. Early onset of severe diseases caused by all the above factors can restrict performances in our next generation.
If the cultural sector appears bad the ecosystem sector would not seem to be encouraging either. It is estimated that the demand for food and fresh water will increase by 30 percent to 50 percent within the next 2 decades. This will mean that we will need to produce more and more food from ever decreasing farm land and even vastly decreasing water for irrigation.
In the face of it the conversion of several thousand hectares of agricultural land into Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in various parts of India in recent years would appear to be another lop-sided approach to development. Probably science can cause miracle with GM seeds to save the situation.
But still our culture remains most vulnerable in the face of threats of sudden and unpredictable climatic change caused by global warming. It is estimated that within another decade the sea level might rise by as much as 25 meters and many pacific islands and parts of Bangladesh, India and South East Asia are going to be submerged.
A severe management regime is, therefore, the only solution. The People and Park debate has for long been discussing the issues of conservation with joint effort of people who are the direct stake holders. Joint management of resources, as advocated by these studies, can always bring about a moderation in resource extraction and also retard the velocity of environmental degradation.
Unfortunately, Government of India, in its own wisdom has formulated a Tribal Bill which does not consider these issues deliberated by the People and Park debate. Neither does it consider the success of this joint resource management experiments in various other parts of the world.
At this state, therefore, one can ask how one can initiate a change in all the sectors of human management. It is needless to emphasize that we need to begin with our education system. We need to design our education module in such a manner that it can convey the value of ecosystem services and the manner in which we can stop its degradation.
Economy and commerce as disciplines of study has to be entirely re-chartered with issues of human culture and environmental health forming some of the most important considerations for the survival of human civilization. This should also include knowledge about such disturbing issues as the hegemonistic power of the large pharmaceuticals of the west and its impact on our health care services.
In the same way the refusal of the Industrial Western countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol to control the emission of green-house gases needs to be known to our new generation. So that the cry from the sensible sector of the world can in future bend down the arrogant nations and thereby save humanity from the imminent threat until a carbon friendly technology can be invented in future.
Along with this a social movement to change our life-style has to be initiated. Finally, one needs to re-establish value education once again so that we can have a generation who are both knowledgeable as also healthy in mind and spirit. This alone can prevent a rising trend of juvenile crime as also suicides in our present generation. Let there be no suicides among the youth on such trivial issues as father refusing money to purchase a mobile.
Such or similar important issues have not been adequately discussed in anthropological researches so far in India. Surprisingly call for a change for value education has come from a nuclear physicist who is our most venerable President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. For him this is not merely a hollow speech. He is determined to personally spread the need for value to millions of children who will be the future citizens of this nation.