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From philosophy to irrigation: how can we solve environmental challenges?

In this post Professor Lovett, lead educator on our new Environmental Challenges program, gives a sneak peak into the program - discussing how the caste system affects environmental choices.

In this post Professor Lovett, lead educator on our new Environmental Challenges program, gives a sneak peak into the program – discussing how the caste system affects environmental choices.

Environmental Challenges FutureLearn

The first course in the Environmental Challenges program is Natural Resource Management, where we look at the principles of justice developed by the political philosopher John Rawls and how they can be applied in real conditions.

In particular we focus on the caste system of South East Asia. Societies of countries like India and Nepal were historically divided into a hierarchical and hereditary series of castes, with some groups, the so-called untouchables or Dalits, outside the caste system altogether. Although caste-based discrimination is now against the law, and there is affirmative action to redress historical imbalance, it is still controversially part of the social fabric.

But how does caste affect natural resources? In fact the two are directly connected – your position on the irrigation system is often determined by your caste. This irrigation position then determines the best access to water and hence agricultural productivity and economic well being, which in turn leads to better opportunities for education and jobs. If people of a particular caste are positioned in a poor position on the irrigation system, or denied access to it altogether, then they are structurally disadvantaged – even if the law theoretically ends discrimination and promotes equality.

On the course we’ll look at this issue in greater detail, using a recent paper by Bishnu Pariyar and Jon Lovett on Dalit identity in urban Pokhara, Nepal. The paper explains the caste system and how it is reflected in contemporary Nepalese society.  We’ll also task learners with preparing a terms of reference (TOR) for developing a policy on irrigation in Nepal, in which overcoming caste discrimination will be an important component.

Explore how people and nature interact (and earn 10 credits from the University of Leeds) – join the Environmental Challenges Program today.

 

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