Traditional wisdom can save natural forests

Sunday, Jul 12, 2020 13:30 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jul 12, 2020 08:21 [IST]

Traditional wisdom can save natural forests

Covid -19 pandemic has forced us to belief  the necessity of harmony between nature and human and also reminds us that  fast disappearing of traditional belief systems in protecting forest (as sacred forest) and rivers has jeopardize the best chance of success in terms of long-term forest conservation. On the contrary, considering this belief system as superstition and unscientific, constantly growing industrialization and globalization along with increasing numbers of Multinationals (MNCs) around the world are mainly held responsible for environmental damages and emergence of diseases in several ways.
During the last seven months, the COVID-19 has been spread to 210 countries so far, therefore, made it the largest pandemic in world.  In addition different countries of the world have borne the brunt of severe climatic conditions, be it in the form of unprecedented droughts or devastating floods, tornadoes, landslides along with major earthquakes and tsunamis. In the backdrop of fast disappearing of our tradition wisdom, are these calamities natural and normal? Or we have invited all these calamities on account of our own actions and inactions. The sound scientific evidence has already linked the exploitation of wildlife populations and degradation of habitats behind the emergence of viruses from wildlife to humans and severe climate crisis. Just over the last five years, the world has witnessed the great outbreaks of emerging zoonotic viruses including the Zika virus, Ebola virus, and now Sars-Cov-2.
 Practically deforestation alters the landscape, conversion of land for growing crops or raising livestock, or building up communities, and this, in turn, alters the natural distribution of wildlife.  Far from decreasing, deforestation has exploded in recent years, threatening countless species and destroying vital ecosystems. Because on cutting down trees,  the forest is removed with elimination of the natural environment of some species.   These species do not just disappear and they try to live close to human settlement increasing the frequency and intensity of contact between humans and wildlife – creating the perfect conditions for virus spillover. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people. A study published by Nature in 2008 identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60 per cent of which came from animals. Though we blame the animals butwe  are equally, if not more, to blame for the spread of this disease that is changing daily life across the globe.
This horrible tragedy (pandemic) has forced us to realize great opportunity that there is a link between how we treat the forest and our well-being in terms of our health not simply a wildlife issue or an environmental issue. Now it is the high time to think our growth strategies in different way.
The problems  of emerging of zonotic diseases and other calamities  probably lies in the socio-political and economic system created by man that requires the achievement of a perpetual growth cycle which is based on ever growing production and consumption without addressing long term ecological sustainability concerns. Unfortunately, such a growth paradigm may not be possible to achieve in a scenario where the earth resources are limited particularly the natural forest coverage (excluding the plantation area) that has been drastically reduced.  Thereby emergent need is to promote conservation. Increasing degradation of forests may be prevented by considering unconventional ideas, though it is holy approach, to promote conservation. Based on my experience after visiting the Mawphlang sacred forest in Meghalaya it may be mentioned that it is the largest and best preserved traditional forest. Surprisingly, this forest ecosystem is really diverse and maintained by the indigenous people considering it as sacred. This forest is strongly protected by cultural and religious beliefs  for many years without any support from any government or non government organization because nature conservation and nature worship are the important moral obligations.  Earlier there were many such  sacred forests and a large number of  valuable trees were  maintained in natural condition on account of their spiritual significance. In the holistic philosophy of many religions, nature is described as the source of life with a understanding of holiness in the earth, sky, light, water and air as well as in animals and plants. The relationship between human beings, nature and the universe is balanced through cosmic/mystic forces. The traditional wisdom of indigenous people did not think of over exploiting natural resources just to improve their lifestyle by consuming energy, excess food, luxury products and many more upsetting ecological balance and polluting the environment.
Sadly, most of these forests are no more in existence. Once the forests are taken over by the government, conservation of natural forest based on religious belief has lost its significance. In the name of development forests are being destroyed.  The spiritual and cultural values of forests portend to have the greatest potential for significant international conservation actions. Many  people value their forests predominantly on the basis of their spiritual significance.  The king cobra (Ophiophagushannah)  as a deity of many sacred groves in the states of Kerala and Karantaka is worshipped by indigenous people. This clearly demonstrates that the religion is directly involved in the conservation of a threatened species.
Indigenous communities religiously maintain a  relationship of mutual benefit in which forests are used for survival of man, and in turn, people look after the upkeep of the forests. They consider the forest as  the abode of gods and spirits and thereby certain plants, animals rivers and rocks is  deified and worshiped. This constitutes a good example of a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit based on respect. Their spiritual belief has made this forest a bio-diversity hotspot and a treasure house of unique flora and fauna species. In accordance with their belief system, no one pick up anything even a tiny leaf and carry out of the forest and any disobedience of this would result in serious consequences such as ailments and disease. In this way, forests designated as sacred were protected and preserved. The amazing feat of ensuring the survival of these forests through the centuries has been achieved not through the patrolling or armed guards, but though an enduring belief system. Without any hesitation it may be mentioned that ancient wisdom can ensure the ecological sustainability without any intervention of governments. There were many forests designated as sacred  all over the world  and treated with veneration and respect but sadly, most  of these forests have disappeared as government has taken over to develop infrastructure without considering the sustainable development. 
Today major obstacle in protecting forest  considering it as sacred is that this belief or spiritualism are often ridiculed and derisively dubbed as animism and superstition. But we should not forget that the protection of the nature particularly non-human element, based on sound scientific evidence or based on holistic philosophy,  is as important as the protection of human beings because  human beings and nature are a developing wholeness. But relentless overexploitation of natural resources by the corporate in support of politicians and bureaucrats as if they are the custodian and master of nature, is the clear violation of universal principles.  Though we worship the gods  forfulfillment of personal desire spending even crores of rupees but  we never keep in mind that there is no qualitative difference between the devotion to nature and the devotion to gods as human beings are  part of nature. If we have respect to the nature we must think that animals and plants have the same right to live and survive like human beings. Of course, ecological balance needs to be maintained in terms of predator -prey relationship as framed by nature itself.  Most interestingly understanding of nature as a spiritual source influences ethical values as well as the behaviour of humans in relation to nature.  Local environmental movements like ‘Chipko’, ‘Green Belt’ and ‘NamadaHatao’ are based on a holistic view of nature.
 The interpretation of conservation was mainly related to the protection and proper maintenance of plants, animals and soils from an anthropocentric point of view. Good agricultural and forestry practices for the benefit of humans, such as the extension of forests and arable lands and keeping of livestock is to be continued so that humans will be able to live with nature in interdependence. Above all, the spiritual value of forests deserves greater priority in creating sustainable forest conservation solutions.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi