You, an anthropologist, have developed cordial relations with a tribal community which was hitherto isolated from the rest of humanity. Notwithstanding increased interest of researchers and media for the newly discovered tribe, you are the only person from outside whom they trust. They are ardent believers in their goddess and, trusting you, take you to her abode on a holy mountain. To your surprise, you find that the mountain is a reservoir of Uranium that can be used in your power-starved country’s nuclear power plants. Besides, you are aware that Uranium being radioactive, it is highly risky to go near the mountain. You try to convince the people about the harmful effects it can have and the utilitarian value that it possesses for the country. However, they are in no mood to argue and politely ask you to leave. You fear that very soon the outside the world will find out about this and the vulnerable tribe would be displaced from their land. (a) Evaluate the following courses of action which you can take for their ethical merits and demerits: (i.) You would continue to convince the people yourself about the possible consequences and urge them to relocate. (ii.) You would call in local and national NGOs for protecting the rights of the people against the State and file a PIL in Supreme Court if the State proceeds with dispossession. (iii.) You would yourself tell the government and the scientific community about the reserves and let them proceed in their own way.  (b) Without restricting yourself to the above options, state the course of action that you would take and why? (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • Give a brief introduction – mention the facts of the case and ethical dilemma which the anthropologist faces.
  • Evaluate the options – give merits and demerits in terms of ethical issues listed above.
  • State the course of action with proper reasoning and how it will address or adjust the demerits which you have listed.

Answer:

Tribal communities, due to their abode in mineral-rich areas have been exploited for resources in the past. As an anthropologist interested in securing rights of the tribal people, it’s my duty to make them aware of those rights. As a citizen, I should evaluate the potential costs and benefits which my actions would have for the nation as well as for the well-being of vulnerable communities.

The facts of the case are:

  • A vulnerable, newly discovered community which has confided its trust in me, values a place that has great utilitarian value.
  • The Uranium Mountain poses a health risk to the people.
  • Media and outside researchers have an interest in the place, meaning that the sacred abode would be discovered soon.

Ethical dilemma which I face therefore boils down to maintaining the trust of the community versus explaining the potential of the resource (along with its harmful effects) and facilitating state agencies to exploit it.

(a) Evaluation of given options

  1. Convincing people myself and urging them to relocate

Merits

  • I would uphold their right to decide about their choice of settlement. It is only human and dignified that the community is not patronised and its rights not appropriated.
  • The dangers posed to their health are real and severe, though they may not have realised it hitherto. It’s my duty to care for their safeguard.
  • Not involving outsiders would limit the risk of intervention and building unnecessary pressure through media, etc.

Demerits:

  • This option has very little chance to succeed. Since the community has been living here since ages, it is not possible to convince them without demonstration of the harmful effects that may arise.
  • Even if it succeeds, there is no clarity whether the Uranium can be utilised or not.
  • It will take time and therefore, the whole purpose will be defeated if mining companies come to know of it.
  1. Calling in local NGOs, filing a PIL in SC on state action

Merits:

  • It would provide help to the vulnerable section of the society by making them aware of their legal and constitutional rights.
  • The court and NGOs have functioned as effective guarantors against arbitrary state action, which is looming very close in this case. Involving them would give a broader shield against vested interests.

Demerits:

  • Since the tribal people trust no one outside and are little aware of the existence of these mechanisms, a decision can be taken in which they themselves are not a party. The courts can decide any which way, balancing their sentiments and national interests, but making them submit to the judicial process which they did not consent to is a broader injustice.
  • It will also raise questions about the trust they pose in outsiders. Even if my intentions were empathetic, it is difficult to convince them of the motives.
  • Potentially delays or even rejects the prospect of utilising a natural resource, as well as does nothing to address the health hazard.

iii. Telling the Government and scientific community myself about the resources

Merits:

  • The precious resource can be utilised for the betterment of lives of the general population.
  • The responsibility to address the concerns of the community now lies squarely with the government

Demerits:

  • This is a complete breach of trust which the community has posed in me.
  • This is also against the ethics of my profession, through which I’m obliged to preserve and protect the vulnerable communities against external threats, including that of state action.

(b) Course of action

Community interest and national interest should be balanced, but the human right to dignity cannot be compromised. My priority, in this case, would be relocating the tribal people because of the dangerous effects that living in proximity to a Uranium mountain can have. To demonstrate, I will take the help of medical experts. I would also involve civil society to undertake trust-building measures with the community. More specifically, I will focus on changing the attitude of their leaders, who can then explain the situation to other members.

Regarding mining of Uranium, certainly, it is beneficial but it cannot be undertaken without the consent of the community. There is a sacred attachment of the community to the site, which has probably continued for a long time. Utilitarian concerns cannot override aesthetic and intimate concerns of the community.

Certainly, efforts should be made in the long run to gain their approval, but as long as they continue to hold the sacred bond, the mountain should not be touched.

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