(Last Updated on : 25/01/2014)
Naturalists in Independent India were mostly self-trained. The naturalists are experts in natural history and hence, can contribute significantly in conservation measures. Salim Ali, Edward Pritchard Gee, and M. Krishnan were among the prominent naturalists of independent India. These three naturalists of the country knew most, if not all, about the vastness of India. Though none exerted or held executive authority, each of them was a living testimony to the continuing engagement of a section of India's middle class with the dilemmas of conservation. The perceptions of the naturalists of the country were crucial in the early years after Independence, in preparing the way for a view of nature that went beyond the sights of the big game hunters' rifle. Even the camera, from being primarily a device to film tigers, became a means to record changes in the landscape. The growing newspaper and magazine industry provided the active naturalists a medium to transmit these images to an expanding audience.
As per the historical records, the Forest Department remained the key agency for both protecting and exploiting the vast land under its control. A few pioneers stood out, voicing and advancing concerns about vanishing species and threatened landscapes. In the early years of Independence, many such naturalists were associated with a leading voluntary group, the Bombay Natural History Society. Founded in the late nineteenth century, it had evolved into a body that brought together those with an interest in nature - planters, officials, scientists, a few princes and foresters.
These naturalists of the post independence country give a sense of the cultural change coursing through the country. Salim Ali was from a well-heeled mercantile Muslim family from western India who worked with and eventually led a prominent voluntary society. Edward Pritchard Gee was a Cambridge-educated Englishman who spent half his life in North-East India and chose to stay on after 1947. Madhaviah Krishnan became a full-time columnist for the popular press in the late 1940s after a brief stint as an administrator. Based in the southern city of Madras (now Chennai
), he was especially knowledgeable about peninsular India. None came from a princely background or from landed or feudal families. Each had to attend to the business of earning a living though they were far from penurious. However, the trio stood in contrast to one another even as they shared concerns. Salim Ali was the voice of science and Edward Pritchard Gee's voice was that of an advisor to official bodies with an ear to the ground; Krishnan was the one who found time for landscapes and living things that others forgot to mention.
The roles of the naturalists of independent India point to the emergence of a complex middle class, which would form a major constituency for wildlife protection. Their ideas, and the responses of the new rulers to their efforts, deeply influenced early conservation programmes in post-British India.