Aditi Patil and her team on what the national agroforestry policy means for people on the ground

Commissioned to study the implementation of the 2014 National Agroforestry Policy in Gujarat – the objective of which was to increase forest and tree cover by encouraging farmers to grow specific tree species alongside their crops in providing them with grants and distributing saplings – Aditi Patil and her colleagues (Manya Singh, Praful Joshi and driver Chetan Bhai) landed in Anand district in the summer of 2017 for fieldwork.

While continuing their research, the trio also came up against conservation issues, human-animal conflicts, government action and inaction, and of course, the patriarchal notions that beset the country among others.

All of these interactions with farmers, “bureaucrats, rangers, men with big mustaches and other living species that are never so aggressive or threatening” are recorded in Patil’s The patriarchy and the pangolin.

The connection, Patil points out in his preface, is that just as humans are a threat to wildlife and the natural world in general, the patriarchal system is the oppressor when it comes to women. But it’s all handled with a light touch. As she says in the acknowledgments, the tone of the book is “light and slightly heated”.

Different approaches

Even laughing at Manya’s adventures, Praful’s attempts to keep the peace, Chetan Bhai’s love life, and Patil’s world weariness, you can’t help but take notes. The discovery of a snake in a water channel led the researchers to organize two series of focused group discussions; one all men and the other women only. The difference in approach to agroforestry could not be more marked.

Another time, recounting an encounter with villagers near Gir National Park, Patil shows how the atmosphere – and therefore the conversations – change when authority figures present themselves. “This Universal Declaration of the Brotherhood of Man and the Lion resembled a speech to delegates gathered at the United Nations,” she wrote. But humor cannot hide the fact that “it was the signal for us to leave”.

And then there is the meeting with the farmer, Rani. When asked what she wanted to convey to the forest or any other government department, her response was quite different from what researchers had heard so far: “We need water from the Narmada canal, l ‘affordable electricity, loan waivers and access to new technologies’. What Rani wanted was both simple and difficult: “The greatest help the government can give us is not to be a problem. Explaining that she only speaks for Chorwad, she describes what the region has and adds: “What we need from the government is not to spoil this for us.

In the midst of it all, the three are busy spotting birds, snakes, bickering, sightseeing … it all makes for entertaining read. Take the time to jot down the names of the chapters as well: Patil’s sense of humor is fully on display here. But, as Jean Dreze underlines in his presentation text, “Under the guise of an irresistible humor, The patriarchy and the pangolin ambushes the reader with troubling questions about Indian society and the world of research.

In light of everything that’s going on, I couldn’t help but wonder if Patil was using humor to keep himself from bursting into tears.

The patriarchy and the pangolin; Aditi Patil, Black Kite / Hachette India, ₹ 399.

[email protected]