Status Report on TKS Seminar – October 2002, Binsar, India
by DP Agrawal

As planned, the TKS Seminar was held at Binsar, near Almora in Uttaranchal, on 4-7 October, 2002. It was supported by Infinity Foundation and organised by Lok Vigyan Kendra and INHERE. The list of final participants and titles for their papers are given at the end of this document (Encl.1).


It's a matter of satisfaction and encouragement that all the participants realised the importance of such meetings. It was indeed a diverse group with historians of science, grass root development workers, Gandhians, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, sociologists and historians and others.

The seminar developed 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, though needs to be better recognised by the Western historians of science. 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 the 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 oral, unsystematised, undocumented and under imminent danger of getting lost with 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 possessors of such knowledge, their region and 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 hand, 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. This farce has to be exposed.
  6. Since the multinationals are only interested in making quick profits, they are not bothered that some of our precious plants, and the natural biodiversity, 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. We discussed 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. We could produce value-added products of which the main benefits will go 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 the 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, be augmentation of bamboo forests to produce domestic items, cottage industries like agarabatti, tea, ginger, rope making, mineral water, gharat improvement etc.
  10. 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. Our laws come in the way of all such technologies, which need to be drastically changed in favour of traditional skills. In Uttaranchal we 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. The road ahead is difficult and the obstacles look insurmountable but we are sure that our joint effort will lead to definite results if we are able to develop a common platform, which could act not only as a pressure group but also coordinate activities of different units both on the academic and the development fronts.
  13. The seminar successfully helped the participants in forging links and it was hoped that soon the delegates will be able to meet physically, through Internet, letters and other media.
  14. This summary is being circulated to initiate discussion and to invite proposals, projects, ideas etc so that a comprehensive document could be prepared for circulation and implementation.

D.P. Agrawal
Lok Vigyan Kendra,
East Pokharkhali
Almora 263601
Phones: 05962-33868/36937

Enclosure 1

  1. Pavan K. Gupta: Traditional Knowledge Systems, Science and Globalisation
  2. Vibha Triptahi: Traditional Indian Iron Technology: Problems and Prospects
  3. C.K. Raju: Traditional Knowledge, History, Science and Culture
  4. D.P. Agrawal: Traditional Knowledge Systems and Uttaranchal
  5. Nita Mathur: Native Categories of Thought and World-View
  6. J.S.Rawat & G. Rawat: Traditional Hydrology: Illustrations from Vedic Science
  7. Ramashray Roy: Ayurveda as Praxis
  8. Ravi Chopra: Traditional Sustainability: Reviving Community Water Management in the Himalayas
  9. Rishiraj Das: Standing Firm: Traditional Aseismic Architecture in the Western-Central Himalayas
  10. R.C. Agrawal: Traditional Building Techniques: Material and Process
  11. V.P. Bhatt: Ethno-medico-biology in Uttaranchal Himalayas
  12. Shanti Pappu: The Stone Axe Tradition in Indian Pre-and Protohistory
  13. Hema Joshi: Traditional Conservation of Fodder Plants in Kumaun Himalaya
  14. Rohita Shah, P. C. Pande and Lalit Tiwari: Folklore Biomedicine for Some Veterinary Diseases and Disorders in Western Part of Almora District
  15. Lalit Tiwari and P. C. Pande: Himalayan Medicine System (HMS) and its Ayurvedic perspective
  16. Shampa Shah: Craftsman as Mythmaker
  17. Ila Shah & Manikant Shah: Developing Uttaranchal: the Traditional Options
  18. Alakhnath Upreti: Folk Science in the Folklore of Uttaranchal
  19. Durgesh Pant: Role of Informatics in Traditional Knowledge Systems
  20. Reema Pant: Traditional Environment Management: a Participatory Approach
  21. Jeewan S. Kharakwal: Traditional Rice Cultivation in Central Himalayas
  22. Diva Bhatt: Significance of Harela, the Greening Festival of Uttaranchal
  23. Krishna Bisht: Woodcarving in Uttaranchal
  24. V.N. Misra & Malati Nagar: Ecological and Technological Knowledge of Hunter-Gatherers in India: Some Examples
  25. D.L. Verma and Kamlesh Sirari: Indigenous Method of Extraction of Vegetable Fat from the Seeds of Bassia butyracea Roxb and the plants' medicinal properties
  26. N. Koranga: Brahmakamal in the Life and Culture of Uttaranchal People
  27. Nirmal Joshi: Architecture & Settlement Pattern in Kumaun Through Ages
  28. Babul Roy, Nehal A. Farooquee and C.P. Kala: Indigenous Knowledge of Wool Dyeing and making
  29. G. C. S. Negi: Indigenous methods of soil and water conservation in Uttaranchal
  30. Balaram Tripathy: Traditional Knowledge System of Riverine Boat Making in Central and Western Orissa: an Ethnographic Approach
  31. Smritikumar Sarkar: 'Lokavidya: Conceptualizing People's Housing in India, a case study of the Koch-Rajbangshis of North Bengal'
  32. Ritu Sogani: Women – the preservers of biodiversity and traditional knowledge in Uttaranchal
  33. S.S. Samant: Status and Conservation of Medicinal Plants of Uttaranchal State