May 27, 2010
Dept of Social Work, Amritapuri
Having closely studied two fishing communities along the Pamba-Achankovil river basin in Kuttanadu in Kerala, Dr. Sunil D. Santa, Chair, Department of Social Work, Amritapuri, described, in a research paper, how their traditional values helped maintain the natural balance of ecosystems in the region.
“A fisherman is considered truthful, if he is responsible to his family, fishing gear, his surrounding natural environment and God,” he stated in the paper, quoting one of the communities’ traditional beliefs.
Titled Contextual Factors, Culture and Sustainable Riverine Fisheries Management in Kerala, South India, the paper was published in November 2009 in the International Journal of Rural Management, Sage Publications.
An abridged version was also included as a chapter in the book Biodiversity and Sustainable Development published by Sarup Publication, New Delhi, 2010.
The paper was based on research conducted by Dr. Sunil during his PhD studies in Environmental Sociology at IIT Madras.
Since components of culture are never static, the main aim of the study was to explore the close inter-relatedness between the belief system of a community and contextual factors such as state interventions, the emergence of modern nuclear families and technological shifts such as the use of modern synthetic gill nets.
For instance, Dr. Sunil described in the paper, how the desire for improved status led fishermen to switch from using seine nets and drag nets to gill-net fishery.
“In seine net and drag net fishery, fishermen have to remain in water and stay naked and cold throughout the fishing activity. Society used to view fishermen as belonging to a lower status due to this lack of ‘decency’ in their occupation. … In gill-net fishery, fishermen need not enter into the water, neither remain naked nor cold. According to gill-net fishermen, today they are able to fish wearing decent clothes and wristwatches.”
Dr. Sunil’s study was based on ethnographic fieldwork. Interviews and focused group discussions were the primary tools of data collection. “To identify respondents who were capable of providing rich and relevant information, the purposive snowball system was adopted,” he shared.
In order to obtain the data, Dr. Sunil regularly visited fishing communities over a period of one and a half years, building up a close relationship with its members. The two villages were selected through maximum variation sampling after examining a wide range of parameters.
Payippad, in the downstream, had a heterogeneous fishing community, composed of traditional fisherfolk, belonging to the Latin Catholic community and non-traditional fishermen including farmers and sand miners who were mainly Hindus belonging to the Ezhavas caste.
Parumala, in the upstream, was a comparatively homogeneous fishing community; most people were traditional fisherfolk of the Latin Catholic community.
“It is worth mentioning that there are also villages in the area having traditional fisherfolk belonging to the Hindu Dheevara (Aryan) Community,” Dr. Sunil shared.
As a result of the research, Dr. Sunil questioned the notion of sustainable development as a linear process. “Institutions involved in resource management appear, disappear, and re-appear at different time-space dimensions,” he pointed out.
This eminent social scientist did not favor standard solutions or recipes for sustainability offered by many agencies. “Progress cannot be achieved without having a deep knowledge of the components of the culture of the community involved,” he concluded.
Dr. Sunil joined Amrita nearly one year ago. Prior to joining Amrita, he was Assistant Professor at the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), where he played a significant role in establishing the Jamsetji Tata Center for Disaster Management.