Shedding Light on Indigenous People of India: Saviours of the Environment

In today's times, Tribals are regarded as primitive beings. But they are the very few communities who have survived the rough side of Indian environmental history. And they should be duly appreciated for their contributions in the sustainable development fabric of the country.

Without our tribal society, the environmental protection and sustainable development is incomplete. The pace at which forests are being wiped out in the name of industrialization and development is fast and if not taken care of soon, will leave us with nothing for our upcoming generations. And a huge contributor to ensure the safe haven of our environment is the ethnic and indigenous part of our society, the Tribals, much overlooked by the authorities. No other part of the community is known to look after the forests and barren lands like the Tribals as their identities and survival depends on it.

In India, 68 million people belonging to 227 ethnic group and comprising of 573 tribal communities derived from six racial stocks namely – Negroid, Proto- Australoid, Mongoloid, Mediterranean, West Breachy and Nordic exists in different part of the country. Agriculture in the forests is very much part of many rural societies in India, like the North-East, parts of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and even parts of North India. Research suggests that indigenous and ethnic people have been found to live and inhabitant localities that are highly rich in biodiversity. They are known to take shelter from forests and use wild edible plants both raw and cooked for their survival. Many parts of the wild forest covers, like plants, trees, all flora and fauna serve as a source of food and survival in forms of roots, seeds and horticultural bases for biodiversity to thrive on. With the increase of wildlife extinctions in the country and slow death of the environment, it is really important that authorities start paying attention towards preserving the only community that can help save the environment.

In India, the indigenous groups consider the land and forests as their ‘mother’. Because of their down to Earth attitude and mentality, they have been able to spark a larger voice towards saving the forest cover with various movements and protests against the government. What is also interesting is that in spite of modern techniques in agriculture taking over the entire industry, many states and farmers belonging to Tribals who have successfully fed their communities without additional harm to nature. For instance, they save seeds from the previous harvest, sow several seeds at the same time, use animals to fertilize land and involve zero use of chemicals. Also in case of mishaps, mixed farming helps to recover the loss by failure of one crop.

So what makes the ethnic society of our country work so well fighting against environmental enemies? The answer is a strong sense of collective identity. Any tribal society is clearly defined by cohesiveness, habitat, stress on clan structures, ethnicity bonds, higher position of women, and a strong sense of powerful collectivism. Even after complexities of different castes, classes, cultures and religions within the community, they have a clear set of measures that help them take an umbrella of decisions, all focused towards the well being of their lands and forest covers. In addition to this, ethnomedicine plays a big part in their contributions. Ethno-medicine is the belief and practice relating to health and diseases, which are products of indigenous cultural knowledge of the particular communities. They create chemical free products that involve the use of herbs, plants and roots of some trees for healthcare.

As citizens, and parts of regulatory authorities, it is our duty to not let their efforts go unrecognized. Nature is known to be personified for Tribals, they treat it as family that have emotions. And this has eventually led them to preserve it in best possible manner. They have been viewed as a backward part of our society because urbans have a habit of looking down upon anyone that does not lead a credit-based lifestyle. But they are the real saviours of environment. They live far nobler way of life, one that does not happen to extract resources crudely from our mother Earth, treats the community members with more respect and humility, is rooted in ancestral plant-based knowledge and worships nature instead of decimating it. Aren’t these the virtues worth celebrating!

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