Tag Archives: Winin Pereira

The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.





Misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings for ‘wildlife-rich areas’

Earlier this year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments.


The Hindu reports that the draft policy, a review and revision of existing forest policy, was prepared by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management which proposed that: “Voluntary and attractive relocation packages of villages from within national parks, other wildlife rich areas and corridors should be developed.” The proposal to relocate/evict people from the vaguely described “other wildlife rich areas” and “corridors” as well as National Parks and Tiger Reserves would cover a huge area affecting millions of tribal people who have been dependent on and managed their environments for millennia.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, says that tribal peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands across India in the name of conservation. Most so-called “voluntary relocations” are far from voluntary, says Survival, with tribal people often given no choice – they face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to “agree” to leave their forest homes.

CHS co-founder, the late Winin Pereira, lived for periods in an adivasi (tribal) area, learning from their traditional knowledge and culture. He became aware of a whole system of village self-reliance in which the resources of their forests, pastures and wetlands were sparingly used to meet the needs of the local people from time immemorial, see a reference from his book Tending the Earth.


He would have agreed that evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else. In the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary tiger reserve in southern India (above)where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it is harming conservation.

However, a few days later the “policy” was removed, and a statement was issued claiming that the document was merely a study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, which had been “inadvertently uploaded.” But Indian news website Live Mint quoted an anonymous ministry official: “[The] U-turn came after intense criticism of the draft policy from civil society.”

An agency reporter notes that the speedy withdrawal of this “draft policy” has been welcomed, but adds that concern remains at what lies ahead for the tens of millions of India’s tribal people and others who live in forests.




Kasaragod Dwarf – another valuable indigenous animal

As noted earlier, CHS co-founder Winin Pereira would have seen Devinder Sharma as a kindred spirit. Winin was one of the five founding members of the Maharashtra Prabodhan Seva Mandal, which was formed to help the poorest farmers.  Reading Sharma’s 2010 blog sent the writer to the CHS archives and these words, with reference to imported cattle: 

gir cow2“The fascination for exotic cattle breeds has been the bane of Indian dairy industry. Our planners and policy makers have introduced these breeds without even ascertaining the potential of native breeds. The Indian breeds are suited to the local conditions, are able to resist the heat of summers, need less water, can walk long distances, live on local grasses and resist tropical diseases.

“They can be also turned into high milk producers given the right kind of feed and environment. While the native cattle breeds (they number 30) are despised at home, and roam the streets because of their low productivity and therefore low economic value, the same breeds are doing exceptionally well in Brazil. In fact, over the years Brazil has become the biggest exporter of Indian breeds of cows. Three important breeds — Gir, Kankrej and Ongole — give more milk than Jersey and Holstein Friesian.”

Sharma asked recently:

”Ever heard of a cattle breed called Kasaragod Dwarf? No. Well, I am not surprised. I too hadn’t heard of it till my colleague Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) in Hyderabad brought it to my notice. He talked about how an Andhra Pradesh farmer was rearing this endangered breed, which is among the smallest cattle breeds in the world  . . .

 kasarogod dwarf

”I found out the Kasaragod Dwarf breed is a little taller than the world’s smallest breed, Vechur, also native to Kerala. With an average height of 90 cms, it can survive on kitchen waste and jungle feeds. Requiring about 2 kg of feed per day it’s milk yield on an average hovers around 1 litre. The milk is nutritious, rich in alpha-2 casein proteins which means it is particularly useful for diabetic and hypertension patients”.

The Vechur Conservation Trust aims to ‘preserve this genetic resource’ and Sharma adds that Bela Cattle Farm in Badiadukka panchayat in Kerala is now being developed as a research centre under the Central Veterinary University to study, research and popularise this rare breed.

He directs us to an article in the Times of India, reporting efforts to get the Kasaragod dwarf cattle included in the list of India’s 37 native cattle breeds of Kerala by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources in Faridabad – and the difficulties in tracing ‘a pure Kasaragod breed’.


Informal review of ‘Asking the Earth’ in Halley’s blog


A 2011 post on Halley’s blog focussed on his reading of the book Asking the earth – The spread of unsustainable development by Winin Pereira and Jeremy Seabrook.

He writes:

I got to know about this book from Arvind Gupta book gallery here. Before i talk about the stuff from the book. a bit about Winin Pereira.

Winin Pereira3Winin Pereira was trained as an atomic physicist, and worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and with Homi Bhabha at the Atomic Energy Establishment. Increasingly perturbed by the danger posed by India’s uncritical assimilation of Western science and technology, he resigned. He then set up the ‘Centre for Holistic Studies’ (CHS) in Mumbai. This was devoted to an analysis of the impact of 500 years of colonialism, and to the recovery of alternative, indigenous social and economic values.

So that is that.

Excerpts from the book (Published first in 1990 & can be downloaded here.)

Firstly i liked the coinage “Two-Thirds World” in lieu of the Third world because “Two thirds of the world live in what is commonly misnamed the Third World“. Nice 🙂

The author says that most of the two-thirds world had sustainable systems in place before the advent of colonialism and he thinks that a retrieval of those sustainable practices is the most urgent task facing humanity. I agree. But only today in the papers i read about someone sayingonly way to regain India’s past glory is through rapid industrialisation and modernisation”. So if we assume that this is the line toed by the government as well. then i don’t think we are anywhere close to the “sustainable system” spoken of here.

The wonder that was India

 Halley's blog wootz

The book starts off with a lot of stuff i think inspired from Dharampal‘s Beautiful tree (as i understand from the references). This is more on the lines of how the pre-colonial India was not as “backward” as it is thought of today. It has references to some quotes by British officials which make an interesting read and also touches upon the by-now famous Macaulay Minute on Indian education discourse.

The advances of ancient indian science and technology, astronomy, medicine etc are also discussed in detail next. I particularly liked the section on “Iron and Steel”. I didn’t know about India’s legendary Wootz Steel before (btw this is a thoroughly enjoyable 90page pdf. i havent yet finished it. but i can pass judgement … coz this is my blog: D). The pic above is that of Tipu Sword made of Wootz steel and has been taken from this article where a nobel laureate claims india was well aware of nano technology 2000 years ago!!

The first chapter ends with a statement … “while the british can be held responsible for much of our poverty, we can only hold ourselves responsible if we allow that poverty to remain and increase“. True. The solution as per the author is to look back at our past and work out our own solutions rather than continue being cultural and technological slaves to others. In short get back the “self-reliance” of the bygone era.

The lifestyle of warlis

The 2nd chapter talks about “Sustainable lifestyle of Warlis”. This research about tribal lives forms the one of the core areas of the author’s life and this book as i understand. I liked some things in this chapter and i quote them one-by-one.

I have always read negatives about tribal shifting cultivation in my textbooks. But this one liner argument makes a lot of sense to me… may be there is more to it but i am convinced by this as of now. I have this swadeshi bias you see: P. “Shifting cultivation is being blamed for much deforestation and soil erosion. But it only causes damage because most of the forest has been devastated for commercial purposes, thus forcing the cultivators to leave too little time for regeneration

I enjoyed this short story 🙂 Not to insult the modern day engineers but i find this indigenous knowledge aspect very interesting.

Halley's blog crab

A person from Bombay bought a piece of agricultural land in a Warli area and called in an expert water-diviner to point out locations for wells, at a cost of Rs 500 for each. He then drilled a borewell at one of the spots, going down more than 20 metres, for which he spent about Rs.22,000 and got not a drop of water. Lahanu then suggested that he dig open wells at two places which he indicated without charging him a single paisa“.

Lahanu and other warlis locate water by observing land crabs. The mounds of wet mud that crabs excavate and leave around their holes indicate the presence of water below. The larger the number of crab holes at a given spot, the greater will be the availability of water

Halley's blog indian green initiativesIndustrial solutions

This part i found very thought provoking as it sort of questions what i had learnt in the business sustainability course in term-IV.

The author says “changing to “less polluting” products is not enough to provide sustainability. No industrial product is fully “green” and making slight improvements to claim viridity will not prevent drastic degradation.

The carbon tax thing that is in news these days also meets with some criticism on two counts by Winin. Such taxes will allow the rich to continue polluting with impunity while the rest will continue to suffer. Nor will such taxes be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: the basic problem remains untouched.

On Development

Halley's blog consumption

On aping the western mode of “development” Winin says …“There is no way in which all the people in the Two-Thirds world can achieve the rates of consumption of those in the One-Third world without essential resources running out and pollution making life on earth impossible”.

I think years later Al-Gore said the same in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.

He also dismisses the criticism against alternative development thinkers that they are “idealistic” or “romantic”. He says “Those who advocate the supremacy of “bottom line” must learn that the real bottom line is not profit and loss, but what the battered planet can bear”

Anti-TNC Tirade ?

There is some stuff about HLL in 1987 using its buying power to deliberately keep down the return to the tea growers while at the same time retaining a high profit margin through retail sales. He also goes on to quote some sources about the traffic between top government posts and top posts in the company. And there is a lot more of criticism on HLL’s export policy etc. Btw the source is authentic … this is one of them from EPW ‘ 86.

But HLL is now HUL and its been over 20yrs now. So let us hope all is well now.

(Else …I can’t survive in b-school please understand: D)

There is more such in sections titled “Procter’s Gamble on P&G” and something on Cadbury’s Cocoa cultivation policy and Colgate Palmolive’s rock bottom wage rates for sub-contracted labour.

Again i will assume that if they were all real then they have all been resolved now (since its been 20yrs) and all is well (Else …I can’t survive in b-school please understand: D)


While the author very well agrees that while some of practices followed by tribals/indigenous people may be deemed as blind superstitions… that is no reason to dismiss all of the indigenous practices as junk. I found this one instance fascinating.

Halley's blog moon phases

Our farmers, for instance, sow seeds at particular phases of the moon. They believe that if so planted, better crops will be produced. This has always been discounted by the “educated” as superstitious, because the calculable effects of lunar gravity and light on plants are insignificant. Recently, however, it has been found that many of the insects that attack these crops have life cycles in phase with the lunar ones. The crops, particularly vulnerable at certain stages of growth, are dependant on the time at which the insects are the most destructive.

The Future

Halley's blog joyful frugality

The author drawing from jainist, buddhist, christian, hindu teachings suggests that the future lies in moving beyond the narrow definition of self-interest and embracing simplicity and in understanding the holistic view of man as a part of nature. He suggests that people should adopt a life of “joyful frugality” which the accumulation of goods and services clearly does not furnish. He says that reducing consumption increases well-being as it eases the burden of imposed appetites.

I also liked this stuff from Richard Lannoy’s “The Speaking Tree” quoted in the book

One feature of universal significance is the importance which the Indian civilisation has attached to the simplification and reduction of needs through self-scrutiny. At its most positive a means to reduce social conflict and the dehumanisation inherent in the pursuit of material gain, this kind of humility is rare in Western science and technology. It is also the touchstone of our success or failure to reduce tension even within the domain of our personal lives. In an overpopulated world with severely limited resources the current Western method of expansion and cultivation of needs is plainly unrealistic. The wisdom of smallness and the zero principle, encouragement of small-scale pluralistic activity in community living, a nonviolent ecological perspective, all of which originate in self-scrutiny, are age-old Indian responses to life’s dilemmas….

Desi-ness sort of overtook me while i was writing this post. So if it sounds overtly jingoistic or patriotic please excuse: P. But if you are from India and thinking this is all piece-of-junk… then i think it is time you strongly considered your nationality again: D. Hehehe…joking 🙂 … Phir-bhi-dil-hain-hindustani: D

About the author:

I write mainly about the stuff i read … Post 2010 …there might be a bit of overload about sustainability stuff … development issues… some economics etc… blame my bschool education not me :). I am not an activist.. i am just a small fish … so don’t get judgemental about me … especially some of the “-ism” posts.

I love this bit from Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s speech “A call to service” that he made in 1904.

“Many of us are apt to imagine that those who loom largely in the eyes of the public are the only ones that lead really useful lives. We sometimes talk and write as though only one or two individuals were really doing useful work and the rest only vegetating. It is however, a mistake to think so. A nation’s greatness depends upon its average man and woman”

“You may not be privileged to make any large contribution to the world’s knowledge by research and scholarship, but every one of you can lead better, more earnest lives on account of the education you have received”


Terrorism: the most serious threat to world peace


For two years this has consistently been the most popular article on a certain English  website. As the nonagenarian author (Major-General Retd) lives, writes and influences debate from his home in Bandra, Mumbai, it seemed fitting that it should be shared on an Indian-based website. The author had visited the Centre for Holistic Studies from time to time – and had fiery exchanges on the subject of tree-planting with Winin Pereira!


Some years ago in London,  Major-General Eustace D’Souza asked his audience:  

“What, in your opinion, is the most serious threat to world peace? Most believe it is the nuclear bomb. Others feel it is galloping environmental degradation or the overuse of nature’s bounty. Many say it is religious fundamentalism coupled with ethnic cleansing. Some think it is the threat posed to the affluent by refugees from poverty.

”It is most unlikely that the exclusive nuclear club will ever use a nuclear weapon in anger – neither will those countries on the fringe like India, Pakistan and Israel. The major danger is when these “dirty weapons” fall into the hands of highly motivated and fanatical terrorists. I believe the most serious threat to national and international security at present is that of terrorism – violence perpetrated by the individual or small group.

“Motivating factors relate to the glaring economic injustice which world bodies have not addressed: 

  • economic deprivation
  • awareness created by the crude television portrayal of higher standards of living leading to consumerism and greed
  • abuse or neglect of human rights
  • the fomenting of fundamentalism
  • the undue influence of the arms lobby over the politicians on whom they depend for survival and the stoking of various types of conflicts to encourage the sale of weapons of mass destruction 

“Addressing terrorism: the four-fold path 

1]  the motivation for this threat to peace must be removed through spirituality 

2]  narcotics, the source of funding, must be eliminated and power gained to scrutinise and monitor bank accounts 

3]  supplies of  the ‘suitcase’ miniaturised nuclear bomb must be detected and  destroyed  

4]  the public must be made keenly aware of the threat to the earth’s life support system from 

  • nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
  • blatant consumerism
  • unfair sharing of the world’s resources
  • the shameful ‘rape’ of the environment.”

In recent years China ‘s claims to Indian border territory have increased tension and, though “since independence we have waged wars only in self defence after being attacked” , Major-General D’Souza ruefully says, ”Given India’s geo-strategic considerations, non-offensive defence can never ever be realistic.” 

In more cheerful vein, in July he wrote: “We are not interested in war. But good monsoons -YES.”

Advancing monsoon clouds near Nagercoil, India 

Editor: India’s Agriculture Ministry has declared 2010 a good monsoon year with a bumper harvest expected.


2012: Despite an early monsoon shortfall it was good to read the IMD report today: The Southwest Monsoon has been vigorous over west Rajasthan and Saurashtra & Kutch and active over Odisha, Jharkhand and Konkan & Goa during past 24 hours ending at 0830 hours IST of yesterday.



The role textbooks have played in advocating the Western industrial model of development

Many years ago the co-founder of CHS-Sachetan, Winin Pereira, also conducted an analysis of school textbooks used in Maharashtra and found evidence that they actively promoted the Western industrial model of development, in which a small group of the rich and powerful control and exploit the vast majority.

The textbooks, which I was shown, conditioned children to see urban life as admirable. The advantages of village life – the clean air, varied wildlife, unbroken family and community ties – were ignored; instead the emphasis was placed on comparative size and quantity. The village “has small roads … only a few buses … small schools … few shops … small dispensaries.”

Pereira’s thinking is similar to the earlier work of another polymath, Ivan Illich –- and the later – and current practice of  Bunker Roy who founded and runs the Barefoot College in Tilonia and many other activities.

A summary of his findings may be read here.