Reconsidering Indigenous Knowledge System
- The Constitution of India recognises the special status of tribal people as ‘the Scheduled Tribes’ and provides safeguards to protect their rights and culture. However, despite a large number of schemes and programmes, the 104 million (as per Census 2011) tribal people have remained marginal – geographically, socio-economically, and politically.
- These communities also witness varying degrees of discrimination and exclusion in access to land, job, credit, health, education, housing, basic amenities, and other public services.
- Tribal communities, though marginalised, have rich Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), which could be useful if they are properly integrated in modern and contemporary knowledge systems.
Significance of Indigenous Knowledge Systems
- Indigenous Knowledge System is an integral part of tribal culture and has wide-ranging relevance in livelihood, education, health, agriculture, and livestock.
- Indigenous knowledge is embedded in community practices, institutions, relationships and rituals and is inextricably linked to the identity of indigenous peoples, their experiences with the natural environment, and hence their territorial and cultural rights.
- Indigenous people, therefore, place a great deal of importance on passing knowledge on to their future generations—not only for the sake of preserving the knowledge but also for preserving their own cultures and identities.
Key Issues and Concerns
- Indigenous communities continue to face challenges in terms of preservation and expansion of their traditional knowledge and innovations in every field.
- The indigenous knowledge is often not adequately valued and recognised. Very often comparisons are made to prove that scientific or modern knowledge is better than the indigenous knowledge system.
- But both modern and indigenous knowledge systems have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is important to take advantage of the creativity and innovativeness of both systems and see both systems as complementary sources of wisdom.
- There are many instances where the subsequent pairing of scientific research with traditional and indigenous experience led to a technology that became widely adopted. For instance, indigenous knowledge of agricultural practices, plant disease management and cattle treatments are often utilised by Indian farmers.
- Tribal communities of India also have rich knowledge systems of traditional medicines. These systems and their practitioners, healers can be enormously useful if they are properly integrated with the primary healthcare delivery systems in India.
- Another important area of concern is poor documentation; i.e., the non-availability of a full fledged institutional framework to map, profile, and accredit the large body of indigenous knowledge and innovations.
- Partly because of remote and difficult geographical areas and due to the low level of education and skill of tribal population, their knowledge and innovations remain unnoticed and unrecognised.
- A more recent threat that is raising concern is the misappropriation of indigenous knowledge in the form of ‘biopiracy’. When researchers appropriate indigenous traditional knowledge without proper procedure, acknowledgement, or benefit-sharing agreement, this is considered biopiracy.
- For instance, many Western companies are patenting traditional medicines without granting due recognition to the indigenous communities whose knowledge systems went into identifying the active ingredients as useful for particular ailments.
Reconsidering Indigenous Knowledge System
- Growing numbers of scientists and organisations are recognising that indigenous knowledge offers cheap, locally adapted solutions to development problems, or that it can be melded with scientific knowledge to boost productivity and living standards.
- Internationally, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, self-governance, and organisational structures in support of these rights.
- They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
- The complementary nature of indigenous and scientific knowledge systems needs to be recognised.
- There is a need to create a repository and data management system to store, display and disseminate IKS. UNESCO has launched its Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) Programme, which aims at safeguarding traditional knowledge within indigenous communities by reinforcing their inter-generational transmission.
- There is a need for more research on IKS and wider dissemination of those findings.
- Various ministries and Government departments [such as Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Tribal Research Institute (TRIs)] who are directly or indirectly working on tribal issues must create a National Consortium of Indigenous Knowledge Resource Centre.
- A strong legal framework is also the need of the hour that facilitates social participation, indigenous practices, and the protection and conservation of indigenous knowledge and resources.
- Intellectual Property Right (IPR) and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) are also issues of great concern. All stakeholders such as the Government, corporations and researchers should continue to be held socially and ethically responsible for R&D and product development involving Indigenous People and their knowledge.
Role of Local Institutions
- Local institutions such as Panchayats can also play a crucial role in
- uncovering and validating Indigenous Knowledge,
- including representation of Indigenous people,
- creating a local level Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (CIK), and
- helping indigenous entrepreneurs to formalise by connecting them to different Government schemes and programmes.
- The larger goal should be towards creating new, more effective knowledge systems that merge the positive aspects of indigenous and scientific knowledge systems.
- Role of training, research and extension institutions, social scientists can become a part of the process of both mediating between indigenous and scientific knowledge systems and orienting research toward accomplishing these more socio-economically just and ecologically sustainable systems.
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