Using ICT’s to preserve traditional knowledge: TKDL and Indian Medicine

When discussing the introduction and strengthening of new forms of communication enabled by technological advancements, it is necessary to understand (or at least be aware) of previous forms of knowledge dissemination. Traditional knowledge refers to wisdom, practices, and teachings of the indigenous or local population of a region. This form of knowledge was historically communicated orally, passed from one generation to the next. As the world urbanizes and this form of dissemination is disrupted, we will definitely want to preserve this traditional knowledge.

One of the trends in development discussed in class was that of “Post-Developmentalism”. This theory emphasizes utilizing  local, indigenous and traditional values and knowledge systems as alternatives to development  (Ports, Presentation 1.5):

Given this trend, how can ICT’s further the preservation and acknowledgment of traditional knowledge systems?

In the late 1990’s, the government of India embarked on a project to preserve traditional knowledge existing in the country, by assembling literature relating to Ayurevda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga. The project, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a collaboration between the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and the Department of Ayuveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. It digitized texts on traditional medicine and organizes  information into an “innovative structured classification system” with subgroups relating to medicinal plants, minerals, animal resources, effects and diseases, methods of preparations, modes of administration. To date, the project has transcribed 150 volumes into 34 million pages of information. The data has also been translated into five languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese.

Here is the description from the TKDL website:

“Since time immemorial, India has possessed a rich traditional knowledge of ways and means practiced to treat diseases afflicting people. This knowledge has generally been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. A part of this knowledge has been described in ancient classical and other literature, often inaccessible to the common man and even when accessible rarely understood. Documentation of this existing knowledge, available in public domain, on various traditional systems of medicine has become imperative to safeguard the sovereignty of this traditional knowledge and to protect it from being misappropriated in the form of patents on non-original innovations, and which has been a matter of national concern.”

Digitizing traditional knowledge presents an interesting set of advantages and disadvantages. Dr. R.A. Mashelkar of the CSIR stated that “‘eventually, the creation of TKDL will serve a bigger purpose in enhancing the country’s innovation capability’… It could act as a bridge between the traditional and modern knowledge systems and provide an impetus to modern research.” (Business Line Article)

So this project protects traditional knowledge from patents and transfers traditional knowledge into a usable format for scientific and technological advances. But what about sacredness of this knowledge, the ancient process of learning and mentorship? Does altering the dissemination process of this knowledge alter the value of this knowledge? How can this project model be used to connect ICT expansion and local knowledge? In all, this project uses ICT’s in an interesting manner to share traditional knowledge to a new population. Petty neat.


One response to “Using ICT’s to preserve traditional knowledge: TKDL and Indian Medicine

  • ddipietro216

    This is an interesting idea. I think that this effort on the part of the Indian government will actually encourage/ shed a positive light on ICT. Perhaps this digitization of local history, heritage, and tradition will be appealing current non-users who do not necessarily see the need/point of ICT. Non-users may see ICT4D as another ‘Western’ imposition on the developing world, and therefore not be be wild about the idea. But I think that ‘advertising’ the ability for one to explore information about his/her own native traditional medicines would be of interest to Indians. In particular I invision ‘traditional/ conservative’ mothers using this digitized information as a resource when raising their children, if they have access to ICTs (and know how to use them).

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