Forces of nature

Silent springs: (clockwise from above) Zurück zur Natur (1985); Dr. Akeel Bilgrami; Dr. Bernd Scherer  

When English professor and philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, broke down the behaviour of a human society in the 17th century, he was under the impression that a life without a government would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He defined the concept as ‘The State of Nature’ – what was the natural condition of mankind if there were no government, no civilisation, no laws, and no common power to restrain human nature? In present times, the world has proven that communities, even with a defined higher power, are no better.

Collective action

In an attempt to understand the current ecological situation in India, activists, journalists, artists and policy makers are coming together for a three-day interdisciplinary conference that shares its name with Hobbe’s theory. “The structure of the conference at the Goethe-Institut, lends itself to deeper exploration of the ecology, and also offers a critical examination of the concept of Anthropocene in the Indian context,” explains the Institut’s director Martin Wälde. Inspired by the Anthropocene Curriculum developed by Berlin-based institutes Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the conference has been conceptualised in collaboration with artist and activist Ravi Agarwal. It comes at a time when Kerala and parts of Karnataka are facing the enormous brunt of climate change and habitat destruction, making conversations like this imperative.

Agarwal’s concerns stem from the ecological crisis that is visible all around us, through changes in weather patterns, threat to wildlife, forest depletion, water stress, and urban and river pollution. “It is not clear what the future holds or what needs to be done. The conference seeks to bring some of these complexities to the fore, to enable us to rethink ‘nature,’ and to hopefully revisit our relationships to it to create better futures,” he elaborates. Wälde also stresses on the fact that conversations like these should not stop at the government level, but are the responsibility of a society as a whole.

Mapping the future

‘The State of Nature,’ will kick-start with two keynote speeches by Dr. Bernd Scherer, Director of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and by Dr. Akeel Bilgrami, professor of philosophy at Columbia University Sidney Morgenbesser. The three days are divided into four sessions, which include Valuations (of nature), Inhabitations (of nature), Contestations (of nature), and Looking Ahead: Are we capable of futures? Agarwal explains that these broader questions ask how do we as humans value nature? How do we live or inhabit it? And how do we balance it or are we in conflict?

Other speakers and moderators include painter and printmaker, Rohini Devasher, academic, Sria Chatterjee, poet and art critic, Ranjit Hoskote, designer and art historian, Dr. Annapurna Garimella, President of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Ram Ramaswamy, and artist, photographer and thinker, Sheba Chhachhi.

“[They] all have long standing practices and deep engagements with different aspects of the ecological question from the perspectives of say indigenous people, gender, caste, governance, multi species views, politics, law, philosophy etc,” explains Agarwal.

The diversity that conversations like this bring can result in the emergence of a new knowledge form, one which Wälde believes constructs road maps for future practices. In the Indian context, the one’s who suffer the most have had a marginal place in the developmental process. “We need to follow another path, a more sustainable one, which does not repeat the mistakes of development,” says Agarwal. It is necessary to be conscientious of the fact that our survival is dependent solely on us. “Without the non-human, there is no human!” Agarwal concludes.

The State of Nature will be inaugurated today at 6 p.m. and will continue on August 24 and 25, at Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, Kala Ghoda; for more details and pre-registration see goethe website ; entry is free and open to all.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 6:07:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/forces-of-nature/article24753655.ece

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