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National Seminar on Re-imagining Human-Nature Relationship

By Diganta Ray & Mahima Kashyap
Moments from the National Seminar at Salesian College, Siliguri.
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Kolkata, Nov. 27. .   Siliguri:  The departments of Political Science of the Salesian College Sonada and Siliguri organised a two-day national seminar ''Reimagining Human-Nature Relationship: Focusing North Bengal'', on 21-22 November at its Siliguri campus. Over thirty presentations were made during the seminar in which more than two hundred scholars and students participated.
The broad themes dealt with at the seminar were: Engaging the Nature: Theory and Practice; Strategic Significance of the Region in India's Security Paradigm; Need for a viable Disaster Management Policy for the Region; Communities and Demographics of North Bengal; Environmental Sustainability: Case Studies; and People, Migration and Urbanisation.

In the inaugural address Prof. Somnath Ghosh, the Vice-chancellor of the University of North Bengal, traced the scientific history of the change nature had undergone since the beginning of the world. For him, 'mother nature' is 'silent' and dynamic; it is the human intervention that vitiates this relationship.

Prof. Virginius Xaxa, Deputy Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, traced the historical development of the human-nature relationship in the keynote address he delivered. He said that in North Bengal, when the pre-colonial organic human-nature interaction was based on survival, the colonial encounter was economically exploitative.

Prof. T. B. Subba, Vice-chancellor, Central University of Sikkim, in his presidential address questioned the very subsuming category called 'human' and critically analysed how the question of human-nature relationship was in essence a man-nature debate. While bringing in an element of spiritual connotation, even as emphasising on the literal and political interpretations, he argued against animism as a response to organized form of religions and rapid strides in the field of science and technology. He further suggested the inclusion of environmental education as mandatory, inventing the techniques to acquire alternative sources of food and energy, and implementing ways to control the population for restoring a healthy man-nature relationship.

The first plenary session was addressed by Prof. A. K. Ramakrishnan, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In his address he spoke about the dialectical relationship between human and nature. He argued that the crisis of environment is in fact the crisis of humanity itself. He urged that the political institution of the state must play a pro-active role in protecting the environment vis-�-vis the onslaught of global capitalism.  

Prof. Milindo Chakraborty, Sharada University, Delhi NCR, in the second plenary address, on the second day of the seminar, discussed the role of forests as an asset and as a liability. Various values of forests were talked about, revealing that our perception of nature is fragmented and hence we receive only a partial view of the human-nature nexus when we look at it through different lenses of interest. He also argued for compensation grants for those areas which nurture an extensive forest cover.

Prof. Samir Kumar Das, from Calcutta University and former Vice-chancellor of the University of North Bengal, in the third plenary address spoke about the disappearance of people displaced from their homes due to natural calamities, from public records. The strange irony of the situation is that in spite of them being formerly in a Foucauldian 'panopticon' like us, where we are continuously being watched over, they are compulsorily excluded even from the State gaze once their geographical locatedness is disturbed, he said.

Fr. (Prof.) George Thadathil, Principal, Salesian College, in his valedictory address positioning the seminar theme within a philosophical perspective, lamented the lack of recognition of local cultures and knowledge systems, and emphasised the need for 'discovering' them. For him, the nature of humanity or human nature cannot 'be' without the nature - the Cosmos. He further said that the origin of the conception of human over and above nature, and therefore as lord of nature, is the origin of misunderstanding of the nature of the Human and of Cosmos.

The re-imagining, as the seminar showed, is not only a rethinking but a remembering of a forgotten reality. Even as it was a grim reminder of the crisis of humanity, the seminar also restated the human potential to transform the world in a better way. And, it goes without saying that such a re-imagination ought to be political in its true sense.  

At the conclusion of the Seminar a short video titled Salesians in the Himalayas was screened to highlight the Salesians' works and achievements in the Himalayan region.


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