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‘Patriarchy and the Pangolin’ review: Ecology notes from the field

Commissioned to study the implementation of the National Agroforestry Policy of 2014 in Gujarat — the objective of which was to increase forest and tree cover by encouraging farmers to grow specific tree species alongside their crops by providing them subsidies and distributing saplings — Aditi Patil and her colleagues (Manya Singh, Praful Joshi and the driver Chetan Bhai) landed up in Anand district in the summer of 2017 for field work.

While going about their research, the trio also came up against conservation issues, human-animal conflict, governmental action and inaction, and, of course, the patriarchal notions that beset the country among other things.

All these interactions with farmers, “bureaucrats, forest guards, men with expansive moustaches and other living species that are never as aggressive or threatening” are recorded in Patil’s Patriarchy and the Pangolin.

The connection, Patil points out in her Preface, is that just as humans are a threat to wildlife and the natural world in general, the patriarchal system is the oppressor when it comes to women. But all this is handled with a light touch. As she puts it in the acknowledgements, the tone of the book is “light-hearted and lightly heated”.

Different approaches

Even as you chuckle at Manya’s adventures, Praful’s attempts to keep peace, Chetan Bhai’s love life, and Patil’s world-weariness, you cannot help but take notes. Finding a snake in a water canal leads the researchers to get two sets of Focussed Group Discussions; one all male and the other women only. The difference in approach to agroforestry couldn’t be more marked.

Another time, while recounting a meeting with villagers near the Gir National Park, Patil shows how the atmosphere — and therefore the conversations — change when figures of authority show up. “This Universal Declaration of the Brotherhood of Man and Lion sounded like a speech to gathered delegates at the United Nations,” she writes. But the humour can’t hide the fact that “it was the cue for us to leave”.

And then there’s the meeting with the woman farmer, Rani. When asked what she wanted conveyed to the Forest or any other government department, her reply is quite different from what the researchers had heard till then: “Need Narmada canal’s water, affordable electricity, loan waivers and access to new technology”. What Rani wanted was both simple and difficult: “The biggest help the government can do for us is to not be a problem.” Explaining that she speaks only for Chorwad, she outlines what the area has and adds, “What we need from the government is to not mess this up for us.”

Amid all this, the three are busy spotting birds, snakes, squabbling, sight-seeing... all of which adds up to an entertaining read. Take time to note the chapter names as well: Patil’s sense of humour is on full display here. But, as Jean Dreze points out in his blurb, “Under the cover of irresistible humour, Patriarchy and the Pangolin ambushes the reader with unsettling questions about Indian society and the world of research.”

In the light of all that is going on, I couldn’t help but wonder if Patil was using humour to stop herself from bursting into tears.

Patriarchy and the Pangolin; Aditi Patil, Black Kite/ Hachette India, ₹399.

krithika.r@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 11:52:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/patriarchy-and-the-pangolin-review-ecology-notes-from-the-field/article34448666.ece

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