Traditional Knowledge Systems Seminar-2002: Highlights
by DP Agrawal

The Seminar on Traditional Knowledge Systems and Uttaranchal was sponsored by the Infinity Foundation and organised by Lok Vigyan Kendra under the aegis of Bratpalji Evam Pannalalji Smriti Nyas (BPSN) and Institute of Himalayan Environment Research and Education (INHERE), Almora, India. The seminar was held on 4-7 October 2002 at Mountain Resort, Binsar, near Almora, in the hilly state of Uttaranchal, India.

The seminar provided a great opportunity to meet and exchange ideas in the fields of common interest and concern. It's a matter of satisfaction and encouragement too that all the participants realised the importance of such meetings. It was indeed a diverse group with grass root development workers, Gandhians, historians of science, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, sociologists and historians, and others.

During the Seminar the participants could develop a consensus about the following:

1. Traditional Knowledge Systems are a body of knowledge, which is very ancient and deep rooted. They have the origins in the remote past, their systematisation and canonisation gave rise to the elite (the Greater Tradition) science.

2. We all realise the importance of this ancient knowledge and technology, which incorporates the wisdom distilled through millennia of experimentation and trial and error.

3. The elite tradition which was reduced to writing and which was also reflected in the archaeological remains is relatively better preserved. The projects sponsored by Infinity Foundation and PHIPSC (Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture) are excellent and much needed efforts to bring to notice of the world the great contributions of Indian science to evolve a balanced history of global science. These efforts need to be fully supported and augmented.

4. The Traditional Knowledge Systems, which are essentially the desi (The Lesser) tradition of Indian science, are mostly oral, unsystematised, undocumented and under imminent danger of getting irretrievably lost under the onslaught of globalisation and western culture. This body of knowledge is also part of the great heritage of humankind, which needs to be preserved and documented and used for benefit of the local possessors of such knowledge, their region and also humanity at large.

5. On one hand western science has created hegemonic categories of science vs superstition, technologies vs magic etc, which are both arbitrary and contrived. On the other, the multinationals are mercilessly exploiting the herbal and mineral wealth of these remote areas, using the same Traditional Knowledge Systems. They throw some crumbs to the local people and make millions out of this traditional knowledge. It was agreed that this farce had to be exposed.

6. Since the multinationals are only interested in making quick profits, they are not bothered that some of our precious plants are driven to extinction. We have to identify the areas in which such traditional knowledge can be used for local economic uplift, generation of wealth and local employment. Globalisation is not the answer for the poverty and the inequity that prevails in most of rural India.

7. Participants concluded that collection and processing of medicinal plants and minerals could generate local wealth and employment by developing some herbal drugs, aimed at incurable diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, leucoderma, cancer etc. One could produce value-added products of which the main benefits should go to the local people. This type of work has been done in Kerala where the Kani tribe's knowledge of plants was used to produce sanjeevani tonic, the benefits of which went mainly to the tribe.

8. Similarly, copper is a traditional ancient technology of this region. By producing copper on small scale and producing a variety of copperware, which could be sold in the region, in plains, as also abroad, a lot of employment could be generated.

9. Many other viable and valuable proposals were made regarding the best use to be made of agriculture, rain harvesting, empowerment of villagers to save forests, augmentation of bamboo forests to produce domestic items, cottage industries like agarabatti, tea, ginger, rope making, mineral water, gharat improvement etc.

10. The Seminar realised that even after independence, many British laws against TKS' have continued, even though their original intent was to destroy India's massive domestic industry and foreign trade and to replace them with Britain's Industrial Revolution. Today less than 10% of India's labour works in the 'organized sector', namely as employees of a company. The remaining 90% are individual freelancers, contract labourers, private entrepreneurs, and so on, a lot of them still practice their traditional trades. However, given the perpetuation of colonial laws that render their work illegal, they are highly vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation, corruption, and abuse. The descendents of India's traditional knowledge workers, who built massive cities, technologies, and dominated world trade for centuries, are today de-legitimised in their own country under a democratic government.

11. The participants realised that the Indian laws come in the way of all such technologies, which need to be drastically changed in favour of traditional skills. In Uttaranchal one will have to modify the laws to be able to use the local natural resources, using traditional technologies for the benefit of the rural poor.

12. It was conceded that the road ahead is difficult and the obstacles look insurmountable but the joint efforts of the participants could lead to definite results if a common platform is developed, which would act not only as a pressure group but also coordinate activities of different units both on the academic and the development fronts.

13. The participants agreed that the Seminar has been successful in forging useful links and hoped that all the participants will continue to meet/discuss physically, through Internet, letters and other media.

The Organising Committee of the Seminar consisted of:

1. Prof. DP Agrawal
2.Subhash Agarwal
3.Prof.Diva Bhatt
4.BS Bisht
5. Dr.Nirmal Joshi
6. Prof. PC Pande
7. Shirish Pande
8.Prof. Shekhar Pathak.

Manikant Shah - Convener; Lalit Tiwari - Local Secretary