The international and national debates and developments on the applicability of an intellectual property rights regime for protecting traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity is over a decade old. Nevertheless, this continues to be an area fraught with difficulties for many reasons, such as inherent mismatch between the nature of intellectual property rights regimes and that of traditional knowledge, lack of an effective international framework, and alleged lack of will on the part of developed countries. The paper argues that the possible non-inclusion of traditional knowledge holders in the process and the lack of their practical capacity is another key reason for non-effectiveness of existing or envisaged legal instruments. It takes the position that a major lacuna of this discourse is that it is not strongly positioned in the local economic, political, and social contexts in which local and Indigenous communities find themselves today. Using a field-based case study of an Indigenous scheduled tribe, the Karbis in the northeastern state of Assam, the paper makes the case for discarding commonly held, often non-realistic ‘assumptions’ about local and Indigenous communities and accommodation of their realities and perspectives in enacting ‘rights based’ law and policy on these issues.

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