Indigenous Knowledge Erosion

Topics: Ayurveda, Alternative medicine, Traditional medicine Pages: 5 (1503 words) Published: July 20, 2011
Jyoti Kumari
Jyoti Kumari is a freelance researcher and doctoral candidate researching ‘Environmental History of Colonial Punjab’ at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in New Delhi. The author can be contacted at

he indigenous communities in India are the original inhabitants of the natural region and they have been maintaining a historical continuity with pre-industrial societies by following traditional patterns of life. Scattered all over the country, they constitute around 8.8 per cent of the total population and with a few exceptions, the majority of them are forest dwellers. Their sociocultural identity has remained unaffected by forces of colonisation, modernisation, and globalisation. They have preserved their culture through their indigenous knowledge systems, which authenticate the presence of their rich socio-cultural and medical heritage. The sacred rituals and healing practices are very much visible in their culture. Erosion of indigenous knowledge has been taking place in India for the past two hundred years and there is no effort by the government to promote and protect these anonymous but unique knowledge holders of the society. The contribution of indigenous knowledge in the modern systems of medicine has been underestimated and it is ironical that the scientific community has treated the ‘foundation of scientific medicine’ as ‘unscientific’. This article emphasises on the revival of folk medicine tradition that is happening with the help of pharmaceutical companies, voluntary organisations. Folk knowledge about pharmaceutical diversity is as old as civilisation itself. The first historical evidence of traditional knowledge about medicinal plants has been found in Rg Veda. In fact, the Atharva Veda, a treatise on folk medicine traditions, explains various herbal formulations that are still in use. Even in the medieval period there was an exchange of traditional medical wisdom between Arabs, Chinese, and Indians. However, it was during the British rule that the exploitation of natural resources and unfriendly forest laws adversely affected the indigenous communities’ access to medicinal plants and heralded an era of gradual knowledge erosion. The colonisers’ ideological principle of ‘scientific forestry’ was based on the conception that all traditional practices of conservation were wasteful and they would destroy the forest wealth. The conservators of the postcolonial period also promoted the same legacy further. In fact, the allopathic system of medicine was promoted and legitimised during the British rule, 10


whereas the traditional systems of medicine received a major setback. Deforestation during this period led to the disappearance and extinction of several medicinal plants and the reduced access to natural resources further aggravated the situation. Various development projects taken up in the postindependence period have displaced thousands of local and tribal communities. When indigenous people are forced to displacement, the unrecorded traditional knowledge they carry with them will become completely useless in view of new ecosystem. And, the forced resettlement of indigenous and tribal people in a different ecological zone poses a great threat to the existence of their indigenous knowledge system and intellectual property rights. In addition, the communities tend to lose vast amount of unrecorded traditional knowledge because of the ageing of the elders and maintenance of secrecy


Kani people and TBGRI scientists after the first transfer of licence fees and royalties in 1999

about medicinal plants and forest products. There is an urgent need to collect, document and preserve this medicinal knowledge keeping in view of the future generations and this needs to be done immediately with the help of individuals, government agencies, and non-governmental organisations. The gradual erosion of traditional...

References: Gosling, David L., 2001. Religion and Ecology in India and Southeast Asia. Routledge, London. UNDP, 2001. Human Development Report 2001: Making New Technologies Work for Human Development. Oxford University Press, New York. Sharma, Devinder, 2002. “Digital Library on Indian Medicine Systems: Another Tool for Biopiracy”. Economic and Political Weekly, June 22. Shukla, R. S., 2000. Forestry for Tribal Development. New Delhi: Wheeler Publications.
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