As I begin to write this piece, my heart cries out for the darker hues of deforestation that are clouding large parts of Indian lands. The Aarey forests located in the western suburbs of Mumbai is in danger. It’s the last green belt in Mumbai and is rightly called the lungs as it filters most (if not all) of the polluted air.
Trees are being mercilessly murdered inside the Aarey forests, all over Mumbai, and all over India. This is due to the lack of the will to save, protect and conserve our environment and the bitter disregard from the government for citizens and vice versa. The young minds need to be open to caring about nature, wildlife and biodiversity – and should not wait for someone to lecture them. A family member or a close professional who dares to care about trees and shares stories with you should be worshipped.
Let me tell you – I am no environmentalist or a nature expert to lecture you on why Aarey is important to Mumbai. But I want to send out a message that the education system, the work culture and our political systems are such that they leave no space in your minds or days to think about the intangible aspects of life.
It’s been over 28 years that I’ve been living in Mumbai. A number of things changed in my life as I became a commerce graduate in 2011. Since then, I’ve been living a parallel life of timeless life realisations (that came with deeper understanding of my decisions in the past) and understanding the systems that we as people become a part of, from time to time. These could be cultural, financial, political or anything else.
One thing that’s unfortunately common is that they disconnect us at every step from the ‘basics’ of life – for example, family time, personal time, community talks, making your decisions count in a world’s largest democracy, caring about issues that elevate the inner you and not just give you money. These systems insert a language in us – and that is the language of currency. Then your thinking changes, your rationality changes, and sometimes, even your nationality changes. You start doing things differently.
In 2011, as I graduated and simultaneously realised that I was not meant for taking up commerce, I started making decisions based on my preferences alone – irrespective of my understanding of things, life, success, failure and future. I am not kidding when I say that I thought everything in the world I am living in was fooling me, taking me to a dead end and therefore needed improvement. I was playing a game which had no point of return. I felt that there was a strong disconnect between people and our government systems (for whatever reasons) – and I wanted to fill that vacuum in all ways possible. The sole reason why lives have stopped to matter for every hierarchy in this country is that we ‘expect’ and fail to ‘accept’.
Coming back to the issue, it was in 2015 that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) marched alongside a huge rally of close to 3000 people inside Aarey Colony to protect the trees inside and to stop the construction of various developmental projects. The impact? We managed to get a stay order. The movement died a slow death, and the greedy beasts again started hovering around Aarey to grab the land with ‘not-so-developmental’ excuses.
Since then, it has been painful to see nature being destroyed right in front of my eyes – not just in Mumbai but in other parts of the world as well. Sometimes, as you study these projects, you discover how hollow they really are and how shallow even their ambitions are. Many of these projects have no clarity regarding funds, information, documents, the people concerned, the professionals and the authorities, timelines, etc. They succeed because you don’t question – and not because they provide a legitimate service or an alternative to people. In such a case, you just ‘have to’ accept.
My thinking is very simple. We are humans and we co-exist. We dwell in nature and we need it for us. Nature doesn’t need us. We are not alone. There was a legacy before us and there will be one after us. We have to be responsible in our engagement with resources and also conserve their richness. It’s ‘we’ – and not ‘me’.
When I was young, there were elders who used to tell us about how trees, nature and biodiversity define our richness. Back then, I did not know all of what they meant – but now I do. What I want to tell you as a growing young netizen is that you should aspire to keep your thinking at the level it was, when you were five or seven years old – when the world was all ‘real’, according to the stories you heard. They used to come in like the innocence in your growing years. It was not modified to suit the circumstances, interests or preferences of some people. Try to grow and become more and more human, as that is exactly what we stop doing as time passes by.
There is nothing complicated about understanding Aarey. Its simple. It’s a forest and Mumbai needs it. Take your tribe along, come out and fight with us to stop anyone and everyone who tries to axe it. Forests are our mother in a non-human form. Will you let her die?
I am not getting philosophical, but the forests in Aarey are providing life for over 10,000 people from tribal communities. They can’t fight for their rights, as the power governing them right now is too strong and posed against them. Friends – you probably haven’t had enough time to step out of the walls of your colleges, classes, friends, theaters, gaming zones, etc. But these are real people whose plights have been captured by media houses and channels like Discovery, BBC and many more. They depend on the forests – and the forests alone – to survive. If you still haven’t, then please spare a day to explore the stories of the tribal people inside Aarey. You’ll never want to forget them. We need the masses to support this movement. We need you and everyone who you can bring along and sing the #ChipkoRe anthem.
The issue of Aarey has now become a journey of over three years. There are various citizen groups who’ve carried on the fight to save it and kept the flame alive. One of them is the Aarey Conservation Group which I am a part of. Every single day is a fight – but it’s a fight to save nature. The abundance in this word gives us the undying spirit to not give up even after three years – and to do all it takes.
Sadly, that’s not what matters. This isn’t even enough. This is not what our present government even cares about. We need a mass movement to save this – a repeat of something I witnessed in 2015, a repeat of what Bangalore did, and a repeat of what Australians are doing to save their environment.
Just in case you were wondering whether I am scared and concerned about my future, what if I am imprisoned, what my friends will think of me, how I will tell my parents about this (and that endless list of doubtful and self-destructive questions/thoughts) – let me tell you that we are a strong team of families – with professionals, young and old. You’ll find folks from various domains – from artists to lawyers to housewives.
We need warriors and not just citizens. So, gear up all you above-18 souls with non-negotiable traits, and join us as we look forward to change the game of conservation. Conserve the intangible, conserve the abundance.
We are here:
You must also check out these trends/threads on Twitter: #ChipkoRe #SaveAarey #AareyPetition