Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Some Observations and Some Questions on Lokavidya – A. V. Balasubramanian

[What follows is an email sent by AVB to Sunil Sahasrabudhey]

As I had explained to you earlier I would be unable to participate in the meeting. However, I have gone through some of the background material and I have the following comments / questions.

1. Other movements and efforts

Over the last twenty five years or so there have been several other movements and efforts which in my opinion are addressing the very same or similar issues in specific domains. For example, LSPSS (Lok Swasthya Parampara Samvardhan Samithi) was formed in 1986 and was very active for about fifteen years and FRLHT (Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions) of Darshan Shankar is an offshoot of LSPSS which is building on it. It is engaged with organizing gram vaidyas, getting a status for them, making them interact with classical scholars on Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani. Local health traditions have been put on the map of the planning commission which now has a sub group and a budgetary allocation for it. There are similar efforts of people who are working with metal workers, textiles, weaving, dyeing, design etc.

2. Indian context

In the Indian context Lok Vidya has by and large had a more friendly and symbiotic relationship compared to the west. For example, classical texts of Ayurveda explicitly recognizes the folk traditions or knowledge and a strong similar thinking runs through various other domains of knowledge including – language and grammar, dance and music, jyotish etc. This is a strong understanding that some people have been trying to build on like FRLHT.

3. What is the kind of space that Lok Vidya will occupy in today’s society?

While there may indeed be institutions particularly set up (or existing in the traditional domain) to nurture and support them, it is a fact that the bulk of modern resource and patronage is being cornered by the modern western system. Do we negotiate for spaces within these institutions for Lok Vidya? These kinds of efforts are already on. For example, when the planning commission sets up a sub group on local health traditions and the Ministry of AYUSH makes an allocation for it. Similarly IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) now has a programme on traditional knowledge and is seized with the fact that knowledge is not what is just created in Universities but there is also a certain “Pre existing knowledge” as the modern term goes and that needs to be recognized. IGNOU has formed a committee to find the ways and means to do this and Darshan and myself are both members of this committee.

In the 1980s during the early days of PPST much of our energy was spent in making a case to show to others (and also to ourselves) that there is tremendous cultural, geographical and civilisational specificity to knowledge that India had and still has these traditions of knowledge, sciences and technologies. Thirty years later today, I think that the present situation is that much of what we argued is readily granted but this is at the level of the sociology of sciences or epistemology of sciences and none of this is reflected in the way in which working scientists or modern institutions operate. Also since the 1980s various members of the PPST group have indeed gathered rich experience and some insights doing some active work in specific domains of science and technology both within and outside modern scientific institutions.

At the ground level, I feel that to practically address a whole range of problems and issues today, be it in the dimension of health or agriculture or housing or architecture it seems unlikely to impossible that all solutions will emerge from a single stream of science or technology either modern or classical, Indian or Lok Vidya. Most of us are making a synthesis with inputs drawn from various aspects of this knowledge for all our requirements such as treatment of diseases. Today this is taking place without any recognition, support or blessings from any formal institutional structure or expert practitioners. It seems to me that there is an urgent need to support these efforts institutionally. Sometime back I had authored an article with the title – Seeing With Two Eyes: How The Patient Is Trying To Integrate Medical Systems And What The Professionals Can Do To Help which I had published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. I had circulated it to a few friends including yourself and I am sending you a copy of it once again as attachment file for your ready reference.


I am happy to receive your mail and be on the know about various discussions and developments. However, my major questions remains in terms of how and where you are taking note of various of these developments (even if you have critical observations).

I am copying this mail to C. N. Krishnan with whom from time to time I discuss some of these issues and you may feel free to circulate it to others in the group who may be interested.

Best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

A. V. Balasubramanian

No.30, Gandhi Mandapam Road
Kotturpuram, Chennai - 600 085, Tamil Nadu
Ph : +91-044-2447 1087 / 5862
E-mail : info@ciks.org / ciksorg@gmail.com
Website : www.ciks.org

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