Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan, Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Delhi was at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) to deliver a Distinguished Lecture on “Nature and Nation: Ecology, History and Society in India”. Speaking to an audience of students, faculty and staff, Prof. Rangarajan says, ‘The world may be a unified ecological unit, with deep economic links but it is divided into nearly 200 nation states. India is not alone in trying to reconcile the imperative for economic growth with the search for space for nature’.
The processes of economic growth as also demographic expansion exert new pressures on the soil, water and air as also on the ability of ecological processes to enable repair and renewal. Yet, the very idea of a nation often coheres around symbols of nature: a mountain, a lake, a river or an iconic animal. Over the last century and more securing nature via protection has often been a project of the nation state, the Tiger in India, the Panda in China and the Bison in the US being exemplars, stated Prof. Rangarajan. Further, he also questioned if the nation in enclosing nature is protecting it, preserving it or hastening its decline?
Prof. Rangarajan who studied at the Universities of Delhi and Oxford, and taught at Cornell, Jadavpur and Bengaluru, spoke on the larger issue of how far these iconic symbols of modern nations draw on older lineages of kings and notables who too had exclusive hunting grounds and parks. Much of India too saw princely reserves as well as government forests that enabled elite capture of larger landscapes and waterscapes, he added.
Finally he dwelt upon how democracy can enable peace with nature, and also create conditions of peace among people, which is a major question arising from history and part of our living present.
Prof. R P Sharma, Vice-Chancellor of UoH presided. Prof. Aloka Parasher-Sen, Dean, School of Social Sciences gave the welcome, and Prof. Sheela Prasad of Centre for Regional Studies (CRS) introduced the distinguished speaker. Dr. Arvind Susarla of CRS proposed the vote of thanks.