ByÂ Krishna Prasanth:
They say “ignorance is bliss”. This adage has always re-established itself through various incidents over time, definitely so when it comes to preserving the environment. An excerpt from Ramachandra Guha’s anecdote on Chandi Prasad Bhatt says it all. ‘Once, on the walk to Rudranath, Chandi Prasad met a shepherd burning the flowers of the sacred and beautiful brahmakamal. He asked why he was doing this – it was the week of Nandasthmi – and the shepherd answered that he wouldn’t have, normally, except that his stomach ached horribly and he knew that the extract of the flower would cure him. But, the offender quickly added, I broke off the plant with my mouth, like a sheep, so that the deity would think that it was nature’s natural order, rather than the hand of man at work’. This shows the sensitivity that illiterate people had towards preserving nature although this sensitivity was driven by reverence and social custom. It was the same illiterate mass driven by the same principles of reverence and social custom which launched the first ever environment protection movement. Same is the case in the latest Niyamgiri incident. It’s the illiterate tribals who out of reverence for their hills and forests fought tooth and nail to prevent hundreds of square kilometres of greenery from being wiped off by greedy corporate and an ever so obliging state government.
It is these ignorant and illiterate people who have been saving the country’s precious resources and environment but then it is the same people who are accused for being “too poor to be green”. Educated people in air conditioned conference halls talk of educating the rural mass about environment protection while using fuel-guzzling cars themselves. Such is the immense irony that continues to plague the environmental protection movement in India. Education and the so-called “rationality” has cut off the umbilical cord between humans and nature and has turned them into profit seeking materialistic demons who have forgotten how much they owe to mother nature.
It’s amidst towering buildings and a sophisticated elitist culture that today’s children are growing. They live in concrete jungles, surrounded by the prized products of human ingenuity, products that human civilization takes pride in, which exploit the nature ruthlessly. They take water, air and rice for granted. How would they know the grace of nature when they spend all day studying and all night in front of play stations with no to time to appreciate nature? How would they know the pleasure in simplicity when the only dreams they have ever seen is of becoming rich? The relationship between nature and humans is on tenterhooks, simply because humans think they have learnt to live without her by overpowering her. Humans will continue to exploit the environment and sprint towards doomsday until they learn to value and protect nature out of true gratitude and not because of global warming.
If we are to prevent the impending apocalypse, a change in the ethos of the nation and the world community is sine qua non. It needs a radical change in the way we think about development and growth. The economic mantra of “more is better” needs to be reversed. No technological innovation can prevent the impending disaster, as it is excessive dependence over technology that has lead us to where we are now. Science can only buy us more time, but a change of heart can stave it off forever. This change can only come if we come to embrace a more natural lifestyle, a simpler lifestyle of lesser desires and lesser consumption of non-renewable natural resources. A life where people respect and care for trees and animals and don’t protect them just for the sake of it.
All of this might seem to be a very idealistic conception. But it is only in the pursuit of this utopia that hope lies. I don’t mean that there should be no more cars in the world, or no more machines and industries but less of all of it will do all of us great good. Smaller cities, simpler cities, lesser luxury goods and services and more of manual labour, more of villages and more of holistic education is the direction in which we need to head. Humans have been on the face of the earth for 5 millenniums now but why is it that all of a sudden that man sees peril and destruction? It has everything to do with what man has indulged over the last couple of centuries, in terms of over-industrialization and over-exploitation of natural resources.
Coming back to illiterate-literate divide, I do not wish to propagate or promote illiteracy just because the illiterate tribals have done better. But what I do propose is a rethinking of what being educated means, of what being rational means and what it means to be a human. What makes these so called illiterate and tribal people actually wiser is that they see themselves as a small part of the large universe and live accordingly through humble means within whatever nature gives them and respect the nature for the same, something we need to learn from them. The utilitarian, materialistic and capitalistic philosophies guiding modern civilization need to be shed and we need to introspect and retrospect and more importantly mend our ways because otherwise the ‘die is cast’.