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Law, land use and the environment: Afro-Indian dialogues

Christoph Eberhard


David Annoussamy

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1Man, born of earth, behaves like a denatured child, forgetting his origin and ill-treating his mother, with the risk of causing his own ruin. As this perspective becomes increasingly clear, it invites him to start thinking. Will he stop his crazy race of self-destruction and limit the damage? A few attempts permit us to hope he will do so. Before dealing with such attempts, it is important to know how we reached this disquieting point.

2Dangers are of recent origin. Man long lived by gathering, then he started raising crops in order to obtain the desired food. He built homes to protect himself from bad weather-and later factories to obtain diversified consumer goods. He even ventured into the bowels of the earth to find materials that had become rare on the surface.

3He was not alone in such use of the earth, hence competition ensued. Conflicts within groups and wars between groups for the treasures of the bountiful earth arose. It became necessary to make regulations to distribute land, to fix landmarks and to protect ownership. At the same time, certain areas still needed to be kept for common use and to be protected from encroachments.

4The problem started when humanity, thanks to the amelioration of food supply and healthcare, started to grow rapidly, thereby increasing the pressure on land, causing deforestation, desertification and water shortage. A note of alarm has been sounded, the magical word ‘ecology’ has been pronounced, giving rise to a new series of prescriptions termed ‘environmental’ in order to ensure a viable environment for our children. Whereas norms are accepted in principle, the general tendency is nevertheless to circumvent them.

5In addition, men’s gregarious instinct led them to agglomerate; they did so blindly, building expensive monster cities, essentially composed of cells lacking light and oxygen. Suffocating in these personal prisons, they periodically tried to escape in masses. To reduce the dangers it was necessary to elaborate town planning and traffic regulations, which prove hard to implement.

6Notwithstanding all these disadvantages and constraints, man has a natural tendency to become attached to the piece of land where he was born, where he grew up and founded a family. This attachment extends to the village, the city or even to the whole country. Because of its sentimental value, man is not ready to give away his piece of land for money or another piece of land. Expropriation, even for the public interest, creates resentment and is resisted with much vigour. In India, newspapers periodically announce the sad news of people who died while defending their lands!

7Accepted or not, an abundant and detailed legislation is in the statute book in order to protect everybody’s land and to safeguard the public domain, which can be used by all. This set of regulations has become invasive and nevertheless it is judged insufficient. There are constant demands for additions and ameliorations. These norms and lacunae overwhelmingly come to mind when one thinks about land law and natural resources management.

8However, apart from this utilitarian or sentimental relationship, man also attempted to understand his real link with his mother, the earth. He pondered over its nature and its vocation. The West has long confined itself to an anthropocentric vision that it inherited from the biblical version of genesis, considering the earth as an object created for man’s exclusive use. Some modern thinkers have broken with this tradition and have found that the earth has a soul.

9Other civilizations have always considered that each plot of land was inhabited by spirits that should not be offended. India has divinized the earth like all the rest. There is a beautiful temple in Tirouvottiour in Tamil Nadu, where Shiva is adored in the form of the earth. In popular parlance, the earth is often called Goddess Earth. Before the erection of any building, one proceeds to an invocation that is accompanied by offerings at the place where the first stone is laid in order to propitiate the Earth to preclude any misadventure for the new structure that is to be put on her back.

10Thus in all civilizations, under the prominently apparent utilitarian relationship of man with earth, one can perceive a metaphysical relationship. It is this double relationship with the earth that was explored by researchers from diverse cultural and academic horizons who gathered at the French Institute of Pondicherry in March 2006. Each of them focused on an aspect that is familiar or dear to him. And each did so with his own intellectual tradition.

11As the conference unfolded, participants could marvel at the kaleidoscopic views, but did not have the time to pause sufficiently in order to assimilate all the new ideas that were presented to them. The publication of this wide spectrum of experiences will permit them to live afresh those moments, to meditate and to attempt a synthesis in which their own view can be set. One cannot congratulate the facilitators of this collective effort enough.

12For those who did not have the opportunity to participate in the conference, this book offers a collection of presentations that makes it possible to perceive the diversity and the complexity of the phenomenon and the possibilities of different approaches. Therein resides the originality and the richness of this publication. But beyond the diversity, all contributions converge towards one point: the necessity of the harmonious use of mother earth’s resources so that each man gets his due share today and so that future generations can hope for the same. If, in order to accomplish such a legitimate arrangement, reason is found ineffective, the sacred may be pressed into service.

David Annoussamy

Pondicherry, 30 July 2007

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2008

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