Imagine a situation where you are suddenly deprived of your place of shelter. A place of living is not only a concrete place made up of materialistic amenities to sustain a species – it is also a cocoon of psychic, cultural and social comfort.
Human beings mark their distinct existence in the natural surroundings with their capacity to use natural elements for producing subsistence to sustain humanity. Humanity, on the other hand, is comprised of social relations, interactions with nature, cultural doctrines, ethics and values.
Where the stable material existence of shelter gives comfort in the personal sphere – the neighbourhood, comprised of other such shelters, give the assurance of existence within a collective lot. Thus, the reciprocal relationship between personal and collective spheres creates a sustainable culture of human civilisation in a particular area.
Moreover, the one significant element which deeply triggers both the public and the collective spheres is the natural surroundings. The natural or ecological background of a place of shelter directly or indirectly defines the way of life (food habits, sacred elements in a ritual practice, livelihood sources and so on). So, imagining a situation where our shelter is being destroyed not only destroys our personal comfort – it also demolishes the total structure of social, economic and cultural spheres. This is because here, both the personal and collective spheres get devastated.
Now, the action of destruction often comes with the rationale of priority. If we go with the contemporary, preferred rationale of the majority with material and political power, they obviously move in the direction where there are more sources of gain, to further multiply their arenas of power. Their ‘ethical lust’ is not centred on the preservation of ethical, cultural, social and ecological properties of the collective. Rather, it is bent on treating every minute element as a source for attaining an individualistic goal. The decision-makers, who are in the powerful position of moulding the circumstances of the social milieu, often seem to go with their preference of their personal rationale – thereby overpowering the rationale of the collective.
Thus, when 408 or more houses were destroyed by the state government as part of an eviction process in the Amchang protected forest area in Guwahati, it reflected the preference of playing with the social equilibrium of people. These were mostly Mishing people from the flood-prone areas of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji and Majuli districts of Assam, who had left their native places due to flood-related problems. The rationale for the eviction, according to the authorities, was that the ecological equilibrium of the forest which was being destroyed due to ‘illegal human sheltering’, needed to be protected.
The protection of ecological equilibrium and wildlife, and the conservation of natural resources and protection are of course immensely important. But, these considerations usually get overlooked when it comes to allowing a powerful authority to encroach upon the many-such forested areas to imprint them with their materialistic establishments. This is a hopelessly-bitter truth of a stratified society, where hypocritical measures are often favoured to further the individualistic goals of the authority in power.
However, this is also the time to go slightly beyond these double-standards. Efforts should be made to strive for the collective good – and to look for a sustained solution to this unpleasant interaction between human desires (for creating or producing subsistence) and nature and the animal world (which are being exploited by the human drives).
The intellectual minds in the decision-making power can ponder upon the need for diversified natural, social and cultural milieus. This means that using the same kind of model of upliftment, for socio-economic issues and ecological issues, is not sustainable. Thus, area-specific scrutinies, analyses and planning, which will definitely focus on the native human population and the nature in the area.
There is a need to prepare pragmatic plans and programmes with policy guidelines for the rehabilitation of people affected by floods and erosion. Such plans also need to be made for people who have lost their lands and livelihood. At the same time, in the case of evacuating people from reserve forests or protected areas, there must be a proper plan for rehabilitation, particularly of indigenous communities.
Moreover, it is evident that the circumstances of the areas witness changes – and these come with various new ecological, social, economic and ethnic problems. In many ways, the universal problem of climate change triggers these problems. So, untimely floods are one of the problems in Assam.
But, moving people from flood-prone areas to a safer area, or, the construction of temporary rescue shelters, will not solve the bigger issue. Moving people from their native places will definitely build up psychic or emotional guilt for departing from the collective social, cultural and moral consciousness of the native place. Being the social animals they are, the displaced people will definitely suffer from identity crises by staying far away from the collective consciousness.
Removing the people and their shelters from protected areas will never serve the greater purpose of ecological equilibrium. There is a need to adopt a broader perspective of inclusive decision-making by situating oneself away from hypocritical standards.