ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

Sustainability Research, Reviews and Signposting

“Suits and Savages”: A fair portrayal? Devil’s Advocate


See the short film here:

Whilst it might seem provocative, I’m going to play devil’s advocate argue in favour of international NGO initiatives, as it’s worth challenging Young’s tear-jerking emotive approach, even if I don’t agree with the former. (I do feel strongly that the local implementation of this project could have been much more closely connected to the villagers needs through better engagement, but I don’t think all the blame should be laid where Young seems to suggest).

There were several different sets of actors portrayed falling into two broad, classic characterisations: the good guys and the bad. The good guys, as Indian forest dwellers, were to be evicted from their ancestral home by the bad guys, the GEF/World Bank promoting an eco-development project in Karnataka to create a forest nature reserve in order to protect the Bengal Tiger.

Despite the ineffective local engagement of the GEF/WB, isn’t there a much bigger problem at hand than the needs of a relatively small number of local villagers? The endangered Bengal Tiger is facing extinction, humans are not. Why is the problem turned on its head and the big bad moneyed ‘suits’ so maligned? The GEF is certainly not clean-handed in their affairs here, but local resistance for resistance sake is not always warranted when the problem is much bigger than the impediment. That this is certainly an issue of a poorly engaged and poorly implemented development project I am not debating. That there is a blindness bordering on an almost belligerent indifference on the part of the Indian middle-managers one would find it difficult to deny.

Could someone please tell me why we should berate the GEF so vehemently when their representative clearly stated this was one of their most thoroughly engaged and locally-designed projects? Perhaps we ought to be looking beyond the GEF as the ‘baddies’ and look at both the process of funding (referring to the comments from Environmental Defence Fund) and the local class-based issues of the local programme developers and managers, who clearly portrayed certain views?

Isn’t the problem also about the employment here of a linear model of understanding environmental problems on the part of the funding and implementation system? Should we not be asking whether this project should have included as a central organising tenet a more cyclical approach that sees the end result not in terms of a particular outcome but as a process? At the very least, is there not the need to incorporate some element of a feedback-and-redress cycle more reminiscent of a trial-and-error, experimenting approach?

Yes, money is an issue; yes, time is an issue. So how do we deal with seemingly untenable relationships and power struggles? What approaches do we have when serious environmental deterioration is afoot? Act first and sort the aftermath later, or pander to every moan and gripe? Again, simplistic politically-charged assessments leave out critical viewpoints and potential solutions. Is the process as flawed as the players and their policies and projects?


2 comments on ““Suits and Savages”: A fair portrayal? Devil’s Advocate

  1. Pingback: “Suits and Savages”: A fair portrayal? « ONEPLANET Sustainability Review

  2. Zoe Young
    19 June 2013

    Thanks for this review.
    I was intrigued to come across it when looking up something else.
    Surely the ‘much bigger problem at hand’, the fate of the tiger, is best tackled by understanding and dealing responsibly with the situation on the ground? Without taking into account the different cultures of ‘suits’ and indigenous peoples, any attempts to ‘save the tiger’ risk naivety, wastage or worse. It’s fifteen odd years since we filmed this, and the tiger remains on the edge. Indigenous people too are driven ever further from their traditional ways of living in some kind of balance with the wild, so it is sustainable cultures that are endangered too. The World Bank and GEF showed no interest in feedback from the ground, let alone from us..
    Just some thoughts in response…

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This entry was posted on 12 February 2013 by in Activism, Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Development.

Part of the Problem? or Part of the Solution?

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