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  • Kanishk Dasgupta

India's Tribal Wisdom: Sustainable Living in Harmony with Nature

“In an underdeveloped country, don't drink the water, in a developed country, don't breathe the air.” 

As of now, global pollution levels are at an all-time high and are escalating like never seen before. Whole species of animals are going extinct due to global warming and sea levels are rising at an unprecedented rate.

India is today the world’s second most polluted country. 94% of Indians live in areas where it exceeds India’s air quality standard. This pollution not only has catastrophic effects on human health, but also greatly damages the world around us, including the atmosphere, the soil, and the water. 

Our industrial way of living is the root cause of this. The dust and smoke that comes out of factories contains radioactive particles that contaminate the air and make it unbreathable. The carbon and nitrogen monoxides released by vehicles further increase toxicity in the air. Our soil is growing infertile due to the overuse of chemicals and plastic. Most of our water is not even clean enough to drink.

Urban life, although having many benefits, amenities and luxuries, bears an ugly side tarnished with unsustainable practices that will make the world uninhabitable sooner than we realise. We must learn from our counterparts, the tribal people who have learned to live side-by-side with nature and use natural resources to their full efficiency. Let us delve into some of the marvellous customs employed by these tribes and examine the genius behind these tricks.


Tribals use local building materials such as bamboo, sticks thatch, and mud. The Mishing tribe in Assam builds houses on stilts, allowing for natural ventilation and minimizing the environmental impact of construction. 

Instead of using large fishing boats and huge nets that scrape the ocean floor and end up catching non-commercial, endangered and baby fish, the Karbi tribe in Assam which lives near rivers use traditional bamboo traps and handwoven nets to catch fish selectively.

The Kani tribe in the Western Ghats possesses extensive knowledge of medicinal plants and their applications. They use the thousands of local herbs available to treat diseases and injuries which not only provides healthcare within the community but also highlights the importance of preserving biodiversity for medicinal purposes.

The Apatani tribe in Arunachal Pradesh has developed an intricate system of wet rice cultivation that includes the conservation of water through small irrigation channels and fish farming in rice paddies. This integrated approach optimizes water use and enhances agricultural sustainability.

Tribal farmers often preserve traditional seed varieties, promoting agricultural biodiversity. The Warli tribe in Maharashtra, for example, has a rich tradition of saving seeds from their harvests, ensuring a diverse range of crops adapted to local conditions which encourages the seeds to maintain resilience in changing climates.

Pollution contributes to the premature deaths of over 2.3 million Indians every year, and with the pollution levels only rising with the emergence of more factories, industries, and vehicular traffic, India’s future looks to be grim. Embracing these timeless tribal teachings offers a much-needed transformative path toward a more balanced coexistence, ensuring a healthier planet for future generations. 

“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth." - Chief Seattle

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