Acknowledging The Importance Of Nature And Tribal Cultural And Religious Traditions
January 30, 2011: The natural world and ourselves – One of the defects of the printed word has been the changing of human perception of the natural world from a cyclic to a linear phenomenon, in fact too much printed information has removed us from the experience of meaning to the understanding of words which are supposed to create ideas related to meaning. We are in an age of information without the experience of meaning.
This has led to a social and ecological crisis of the first magnitude in that the more information we gather, the more ideas we generate, the further we get from the experience of meaning. This is especially true of our relationship with the natural world. The natural world is understood through a digitized impersonal symbolism rather than the spiritual personal experience, and this is nowhere better shown than in the death of poetry and art, of music and spiritual expression. Our relationship with nature has become a virtual one in which the original emotional connectedness – empathy – between man and nature, has been lost and perhaps even irrevocably severed. We no longer feel the same connectedness with the natural world and this world is increasingly seen in economic terms, or as the source for material consumer products. We no longer find meaning through experience with nature and words have replaced emotions – using words to express meaning rather than meaning found through direct experience without printed words. Reverence for the natural world has been lost and our eyes get blurred scanning printed texts which are supposed to create that experience which the simplest pre-literate societies experienced in confronting nature. The early natural world was vastly different to the modern natural world and this has happened at the scale of our collective consciousness and has created a barrenness in human imagination, in which the human mind itself in changing literate societies. The earlier human mind – or the mind of existing pre-literate societies – is undergoing forced change through industrialism, cash economy, change of language (from mnemonic speech to digitized information). The old mind had a profound sacred, living and survival relationship with the natural world. Our modern industrial-economic society has destroyed much of this through the process of industrial labour and production in favor of a surrogate world, a factory produced economic survival system based on information but sadly void of experienced meaning. Information ceases to be a survival tool and becomes increasingly a box full of ideas – mostly unrelated due to increasing specialization – and consequently the innately creative and unconsciously complex mind which was man’s increasingly becomes technologically productive but creatively barren. Too much information and too much interpretation of ideas has destroyed experiential meaning and what was earlier held to be sacred has been made profane. What was a natural flowering of relationships has been lost. The print hanging on the living room wall has replaced the genuine work of art, and the work of art if there by any chance has become a status symbol. When early man painted the natural world about him he conveyed his living experience through art with the animals and birds and landscape surrounding him, but now the work of art has become abstracted to the extent of forsaking the natural world and its value is in its interpreted creativity or economic value. Art and meaning have both died on the funeral pyre of modern attitudes and the experience of the human with the natural world has been lost. Increasingly the natural world has been industrialized and our knowledge of nature has disappeared even as our bank of literate information – increasingly in digitized form – has increased. Reading books is fashionable but rarely practiced. Statistics have replaced landscapes.
Humanity has to rediscover its relationship with the natural world and this can only happen when it has regained its meaningful relationship with nature. The photograph of a mother and child is not the same as the normal living relationship between mother and child. The time has come to put aside the overwhelming quantity of information stored in computers and contemplate the natural world in all its stunning beauty before us and mourn its loss wherever it has been stripped and abused. The time has come to stop reading and begin experiencing the natural world in all its primordial wonder and beauty, its limitless wealth of creative and curative powers, rather than fragmenting it into kiosks of information which may contain germs of great laws but which never rise above these great laws themselves. Then only will we regain knowledge of ourselves as a species, what makes us human, and what makes us tick.
Religion as a cultural expression
It is time to understand in our modern world that religion is a cultural manifestation and that to damage traditional cultures and their lifeways is to damage their primordial religious belief and worship systems. In India in the formation of a secular nation our founding fathers of the Constitution followed the American model of the American Constitution of separating church from state which was ratified in the First Amendment. This has not brought about the perceived objective of secularism and in India specifically the caste bound nature of the state imposes governance by religious denominations large or small, following their individual priorities. Moreover in this partisan plan the the tribal state and their sacred places and religious beliefs are given little importance other than marking certain ritual festivals. On the other hand the tribal culture and sacred landscapes, their sacred sites and places of worship are resolutely ignored in what is seen as national interests. Sacred hills and valleys, sacred groves and forests, sacred rivers and temples of nature are destroyed with utter indifference. It is for this reason the tribals have lost their sacred world and even their cultural heritage that was so inextricably bound up with these sites – their sacred groves and forests where their animist deities were worshipped, the mountains and landscapes which they worshipped, their sacred rivers and streams and sacred rockart, megalithic, and burial sites worshipped as ancestors. On the other hand, the numbers of the mainstream ‘s churches, mosques and templeds have multiplied and received the nation’s attention and full glare of media publicity. It is as if tribals, their culture, sacred places and worship do not count. All this has happened at an increasing rate in the past sixty odd years. Most of this has been done in the name of nationalism and economic industrial development.
Tribal religion is not recognized as a sacred cultural right of these peoples which is guaranteed to all other religions under the Constitution. The Constitution protects the religious rights of every other denomination but the tribals. State schools and educational institutions pay scant attention to tribal languages and even scripts, nor do they teach the tribal histories or great oral traditions and knowledge handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and example. The extermination of tribal culture and worship is seen as a sign of progress in mainstreaming these oldest of the worlds first peoples. Their cultural relationship with their land is sacred and hence religious and requires protection. In the wanton destruction of tribal cultures and worship the objective is to break the tribals’ resistance to the state forcibly acquiring their lands and displacing them with their families. Without the tribal lands and sacred sites, and their way of life which is their culture, the tribal worship cannot continue.
In the destruction of tribal landscapes and forcible conversion to modern concrete resettlement and school education the nomadic character of several nomadic self supporting tribes are destroyed and their economy shattered. Through massive state sponsored and state condoned deforestation going on all over India in the name of industrial development the tribals have been rendered absolutely homeless and devoid of their own exchange economy. In particular the rendering of tribal worship practically impossible and the destruction of cultural traditions and their prevention from continuing the state has to be seen as violating their freedom of right to their religion and its expression. Under the veneer of so called development – the expansion of new mines, railways, industries, dams and allied industries the tribals’ homelands across India have been most violently violated.
The religious repression these simple people are presently facing is through destruction not only of their living environment and life support systems but through forcible destruction through acts of commission and omission by church and state in the education of tribal children. Religious expressions are through culture and through destruction of tribal cultures we witness the abuse of religious privilege guaranteed to other religions. Homogenization and mainstreaming of tribal children according to western (and now increasingly American) models of education is a violent form of repression violating the individual’s right to religious expression and personal choice of religion. The Constitution is very clear that no forced religious conversion is allowed and cultural repression and mainstreaming and destruction of sacred sites must be seen as a form of conversion of tribals’ religious beliefs and forms of worship to the mainstream.
When we understand the relationship between cultures and their ancient religious beliefs – in particular autochthonous cultures and their animist forms of worship – we realize that forcible destruction of their cultures and traditional lifeways and religious expressions are in fact religious repression and that forcing change on them by the dominant order is in fact religious conversion .
Convener, INTACH Hazaribagh Chapter
P.O.Hazaribagh- 825 301
Tel: 06546-264820; Fax: 06546-270815
Website: www.sanskritihazaribagh.com / www.karanpuracampaign.com