The Indigenous People: Victims of Neo-Classic Industrialization

Posted on April 21, 2012 in Society

By Ashish Kumar:

Half a century ago, crony Capitalism promoting laissez faire was at loggerheads with Communism. World, especially nascent republics would just not get enough of the debate as to which path to adhere to for the development. Today, all countries alike, even the pillars of Communism- Russia and China- concur that laissez faire is the key to bustling industrial development.

But industrial development has found another bête noire- Environment. Industries rely on nature. You need land. Need water. Need air to release the exhaust. And nature has been generous. It has given us bountiful of all the resources. If used judiciously, nature would never be short of them. It is the human greed and cravings for luxuries that has manifested into reckless exploitation of nature.The juggernaut of industrialization fuelled by insatiable desires of earning profit is threatening to distort the balance of nature and usurp the indigenous flora, fauna, human population, culture and tradition.

The threat is so credible and potent that every idea of establishing industries is met with protest and agitation from native population these days. What options do they have? When the trees aborigines have worshipped for centuries are cut; pets and creatures with which they have lived cheek-by-jowl since man was Neanderthals are netted and sent to zoo; rivers which quenched their thirst and nourished their meal is diverted to a dam to produce electricity which doesn’t light lamps in their cottages; when their rare and articulate craftsmanship is snatched from them and sold to city-folks at gargantuan prices but they get only a petty fraction of the windfall; when their land, their home is snatched from them and they are paid peanuts.
And these encroachments of indigenous lifestyle and tradition is not restricted to a particular geography, rather this curse has jinxed the entire world. Stories keep coming in from around the globe about how a new industry is all set to wipe out native population from the industry-site. One such tragic incident is happening in Panama. The diverse ecology and land of Panama, mineral-rich, interspersed with rivers and inhabited by native Ngabe population, has been virtually sold to the foreign mining and hydroelectric companies by its authoritarian head-of-state. This development is supposed to be “essential for the Panamian economy to grow”.

Agreed, but how much minerals and electricity do Panamian people need and at what cost? The reports bring out the fact that the number of mining and dam licenses granted is highly disproportionate to the native demand. If all these companies started production, the gross production of minerals and electricity would manifolds exceed the domestic demand. The corporate giants are being allowed to increase their vault’s worth on the cost of lives of many, under the guise of development.

Cases of intrusion in natural life have come aplenty from India also. The video showing a half-naked Jarawa tribe woman running across the road on Port Blair highway created immense furore so much so that British authorities had to write to India asking to ban Forest Safari in the forests sheltering Jarawas. Are we, the so-called civilised people, so insensitive that we are ready to make money out of other people’s (not so civilised) bewilderment and fear? Another instance of development taking precedence over local people’s safety and environment concerns is the Maharashtra government’s contradictory stance on Western Ghat Ecology Expert Panel report declaring talukas with more than 50% area falling in Western Ghats as Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1) where no power plants and dams can be set up.

Discovery of gigantic deposits of copper, tin, uranium, rare earth metals and gold reserves in Turquoise hills in Southern Mongolia has led to a mining boom – one of the biggest the humanity has ever seen. This boom is poised to contribute one-third of the Mongolian GDP, yet a connection between a native Mongolian’s well-being and this boom is nowhere to be seen. In fact, the abominable and corrosive effect on the environment is easily palpable. The frequency of severe zuds-storms that turn ice cover into solid ice, causing the starvation of livestock has increased manifold and has had an annihilating effect on the living of the people where one-fourth of people earn their living through rearing cattle. One of the most pristine mangrove forest wetland reserves in the southern tropical island province of Hainan along Dongzhaigang Bay faces threat due to province government’s plans to develop world-class tourist destination near the island.

This debate of nature versus development entails an ethical dilemma. Utilitarianism approach suggests that our actions should promote the wellbeing of maximum number of people. Development is necessary, but the adversaries must not be devoid of its benefits. Others have no right to infringe upon their resources, have lavish life out of it and leave the adversaries with scars of relocation and rehabilitation with petty compensation. SEZs (Special Economic Zones) are important because they earn foreign exchange and higher earning on investments but the adversaries would never like it and would never abandon their paternal houses for it unless they don’t receive any comparable benefit out of it. A median path between two extremes needs to be devised. If the tempering with the native lifestyle is a necessity, scholarly cost-benefit and risk-return analysis should be done and the adversaries must be compensated accordingly before doing so.