During the different phases of the nation-wide lock-down, all of us must have come across several news stories, Facebook and Instagram updates about how pandemic has given mother earth an opportunity to heal. Interesting stories were reported from different parts of the country. For example, due to the reduced pollution level in North India people of Jalandhar, Punjab were able to see Dhauladhar ranges. People of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh were surprised to see snow-capped peaks of Gangotri from their terrace and balconies. Air Quality improved in nine major cities of the world, including Delhi and Mumbai. Another very interesting impact of this shutdown was observed in the animal kingdom. Many animals started expanding or reclaiming their territories due to the absence of human activities.
It was very heartening to read that water quality of River Ganga, worshipped by millions in India improved during the lockdown. As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in some stretches of River Ganga, the water became fit for drinking. Likewise, Uttrakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Board claimed that 34 per cent reduction in the quantity of faecal coliform and 20 per cent reduction in the Biological Oxygen Demand was observed at Har-Ki-Pauri at River Ganga.
Majority of people, specially the middle class of India lauded and celebrated the events mentioned above. Many called it nature’s natural healing process; few termed it as nature’s revenge and so on and so forth. Inspired by the re-telecast of Mahabharata on the national television, people related the pandemic to Yudhistir’s conversation with Yaksha about the biggest irony of life i.e. man lives like immortals and plunders the nature, he considers himself superior and powerful without realising the fact that his life is solely dependent upon the mercy of the nature. Evils of western form of consumerism became dining table discussion.
Since majority of Indian believe in Hinduism, some of the scholars started discussing views on environment and nature from the perspective of Hinduism and possibilities of its revival. Hinduism believes that humans and society are embedded in nature and dependent upon cosmic forces. Hinduism has a strong ethical direction aimed at keeping this relational continuity (nature-man) in balance. All these discussions and views that emerged during the lockdown may be summarised with the statement that Indian middle class started conforming (at least in the virtual world) to a global philosophy called as Environmentalism.
During the lockdown and subsequent events such as Amphan (and now Nisarga) cyclone, and the locust attacks, people started realising the ultimate power of nature. This reckoning can be seen as a major deviation from the socially accepted previously held views pertaining to human superiority and its erroneous claims of controlling the course of nature. So, should we consider it as a trend reversal ? Are we heading towards accepting environmentalism as a governing philosophy for life ? Those who are not aware, environmentalism is a collage of values and views of the world. It embraces Earth’s centeredness, a sense of altruistic communalism, non-violence and a concept of time that is almost timeless (O’Riordan, 1989). However, modern environmentalism started with Rachel Carson’s book on pesticide pollution, Silent Spring, published in the year 1962. This book is considered as the bible of modern environmentalism. The book highlighted threats to human health and natural system posed by unregulated economic growth. The book became so popular that it marked popular environment movement across Europe and North America. During the same period India witnessed Chipko Andolan, a movement of Himalayan Peasants against indiscriminate cutting of forest (Guha, 2000). In India, modern environmentalism emanated from the desire to protect endangered species, natural habitats. It was an environmentalism of the poor which sought to promote social justice and sustainability (Guha, 2000).
Now, several questions arise due to this recently developed middle class love for the environment. Are we truly ready to put environmentalism at the core of our progress agenda in the post-pandemic world? Are we ready to give more weightage to environmental sustainability over economic liberalisation ? Have we become so sensitive to the mother earth that we will start penalising industries evading environmental laws or doesn’t follow Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures in its true spirit? Are we going to stop demonising people associated with environment movements and living ascetic life in the post-pandemic world? Is it possible for us as a nation to come out from the ‘Age of Ecological Arrogance’? These questions are very critical and need to be assessed in the light of people’s responses regarding the serious issues concerning the state of environment in the country and the world.
Lockdown Infatuation or Real Substance?
It is very important to examine the emotional tsunami that has been witnessed throughout the world about being more considerate towards environment due to the death and destruction caused by pandemic. It is equally significant to test Indian Middle class recently formed love for nature. Is it a lockdown led minor infatuation towards environmental issues ? Are we sincerely prepared to accept our position and ready to establish peaceful co-existence with nature ? After surveying the social media and newspapers (both vernacular and mainstream) the idea seems to be a mild infatuation only. Environmentalists have raised several issues concerning deforestation, forest rights, over population, illegal mining, poaching and hunting of wild animals etc. but all these issues failed to gather support from the middle class in virtual as well as real world. It is a general perception now that pandemic is slowing down the climate change. On the contrary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said that 2020 is already second warmest year on record and there is 75 per cent chance of it being the hottest year ever. Scientists have also said that climate change is the result of decades of accumulation of gasses in the atmosphere, slight fall in emissions for few months is not going to bring long term effects. Besides that there is full possibility that countries may forgo key environmental legislations and emission checks to encourage manufacturing, attain competitive growth rate and good GDP numbers. It is very important that the recent rise in environmental awareness among the middle class and its virtual advocacy about conservation of nature should not die its natural death in the post-pandemic world.
Way Forward ?
We are aware that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given call for Atma Nirbhar Bharat to tackle the unprecedented economic crisis prevailing in the country. I strongly feel that this adversity has given us an opportunity to re-think and re-invent our own development model based on Gandhian principles. It is now essential to embed the Advaita (Non-Duality) of man-nature to Atmanirbharta (self-reliance). Gandhian principles such as simple living, rural-centric and village-based economy, self-reliance, focus on local technologies, emphasis on human labour and absence of exploitative labour relations, in addition to that greater push for renewable energy, recycling and negligible waste can achieve the desired results.
My message on World Environment Day!
आइये हम सब पर्यावरण – मनुष्य की अद्वैता को आत्मनिर्भरता से आत्मसात करें.
- Guha, Ramchandra. Environmentalism: A Global History, Pearson; 1 edition (October 18, 1999)
- Rangarajan, Mahesh. Environmental Issues in India: A Reader, Pearson Education India; 1 edition (2006)
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