Out of This Earth
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It goes without saying that Charles Darwin's shadow is a formidable one. However, Felix Padel, Darwin's great-great grandson must have gone through a lot to emerge from it. Which is why it's no surprise that during the launch of this eminent anthropologist's book at Oxford Bookstore last evening, Darwin's name was hardly even mentioned. The audience was thoroughly involved in Padel's talk on the potential impact of mining operations in Orissa. "People tend to be dismissive about adivasi culture. We presume that they are not evolved enough. But the truth is that they have a highly complex social order. They are self reliant and independent. Who are we to judge them?" asks Padel.
His first book "Sacrificing People: Invasions of a Tribal Landscape" and his second book, "Out of This Earth:East India Adivasi and the Aluminum Cartel" (co-authored by Samarendra Das) talks about the displacement and the cultural genocide of the adivasis.
"First there were the soldiers, then missionaries and now the mining companies. Aluminum is used in arms manufacturing and that is one of the main reasons why we can't leave these mineral rich areas alone. There is a complicated relationship between the aluminum industry and the weapon industry," says Padel.
Padel, who divides his time between Orissa and Wales, is more than disillusioned with the way we are exploiting our natural resources. "No thought is given to the consequences of actions. Recently, I was at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and I asked top-level official there why the students there are not taught subjects like ecology and sociology too. They need to understand the ground realities of the world that they are dealing with. The professor looked at me and said the students understand only 2 per cent of the consequences of their actions," says Padel.
The Vedanta issue is a perfect example of irresponsible mining. "They did whatever they wanted and then made everything look good on paper. That's ridiculous," says Padel.
Development of infrastructure is important, but not by endangering the ecology, he claims. "Most poor people in India live in industrial belts. There is a reason for that. When we build dams and industries we only consider the profit we will make from it. We don't consider the harm that it will cause. We should have a system in place to evaluate things and then make an informed decision. It's a very basic solution, but that's is the middle path, I feel" he sums up.