Trampling cultures, identities in the quest for ‘development’: Can we find a middle ground? #Posco #tribals #India- June 22, 2012
Read late into the night, after a while. ‘Two pronouns and a verb’ by Kiran Khalap. A story about three friends, destiny, relationships, strength, and searching for who you really are. The language is beautiful, even though the story is simple enough. The characters come alive. But this post is not about the book.
It’s about one aspect of the book that is haunting me. Dhruv, one of the three protagonists, makes working with the Madia Gond tribals of Maharashtra his life’s work. The mission of his Madia Rights Centre, set up with the objective of “returning to the madias, the original inhabitants of the land, their constitutional rights”. After many decades of documentation and struggle, Dhruv and his friends succeed in convicting the three contractors who were the mafia behind the rampant destruction of these teak forests.
This morning, as I read Freny Manecksha’s heart rending editorial in The Hindu about the plight of the villages resisting the Posco plant in Odisha, I found myself in tears. I just had this sense that, in reality, there is no one or very very few who understand the story from the tribal perspective and there is probably no possibility of a happy ending for the tribals. Everyone-the state, the industry and even the Naxalites- exploit them. These people who are one with nature, who weep for the river running dry, who hide within the folds of their unique culture many precious secrets about life-saving plants, who truly believe in equality between men and women and who value the life of each child….. And here we are, the so-called developed or developing world, hypocrites, opportunists, drunken with greed and fear for our survival (survival of the world we call it, as if we are the world!)…here we are, telling the sons and daughters of nature what is right, what is good for them, what they ought to do, how they ought to live….it’s rather lopsided, that logic if you ask me.
And yet, like everything else, we must find the middle ground. Between the need to fuel our reckless consumption and the need to protect their isolation. Between certain disaster and the end of life as we know it. Between bleakness and hope.
Today’s blog is following up on yesterday’s post about salons and looking good and after reading Nupur’s comment about how salons are about making us feel good, much beyond the looks……I would go as far as saying that the popularity of parlors, gadgets, retail therapy and a zillion other status-related things we crave for in modern, especially urban (but not strictly so) societies have a lot to do with our shrinking confidence in ourselves as people.
Looking around, I suspect we all seek confirmation in our success from external sources and hence the dramatic increase in material consumption, but also consumption of another kind–the spiritual. Whether stress therapy, spirituality, religion or a pursuit of mentors and gurus, more of us are attracted to the idea of being guided by forces we perceive as beyond us and more powerful than us.
Is it because we don’t want to ask ourselves the tough questions and worse, not take decisions for ourselves?
Do we really need to be in the rat race, or do we need the rat race so we have parameters by which we can compare ourselves with others? Isn’t it comparison that offers us a basis for considering ourselves better, improved, more successful? And if so, what when we find ourselves lacking? We perceive that as failure and go into a cycle of guilt and low-esteem. Which brings us back to the point of seeking easy solutions to break out of that cycle all over again!
I’m as much a victim of this repetitive cycle as anyone else. And I must confess that as long as life is good and the status quo acceptable, I do not feel a particular desire to break this cycle. When the chips are down though, the doubts return…..and I do know the tough questions need to be asked!
Andy Pag’s a guy who traveled around Europe, Asia and the Americas for two years in a truck fueled by used cooking oil. He recently blogged about what he learnt and the lessons were not about sustainable energy and the technology that went into retrofitting his truck to use a more eco-friendly fuel. Instead, he learnt that unnecessary consumption is the essential evil we all need to fight. To quote, “So much of the things we consume and the way we consume them are entirely superfluous and actually serves to isolate us from the communities we are surrounded by. In developed countries it feels like a system that feeds and feeds on dissatisfaction, while persuading us its delivering quality of life.”
While in the West the life of consumption has been the norm for decades now, what does this new realization mean for people like us who live in the so-called developing world? We in India are still holding as our ideal the quality of life offered in the developed world. We aspire to 24X7 services like electricity, Internet, water, etc. We expect controlled interior environments, thereby adopting air conditioning and heating in a big way. We argue about why we shouldn’t aspire to the good things in life and why we should be expected to give these things up when the West has had it for so long! Which is all very valid and is the sort of argument that has gone round in circles for years at the climate change conferences since the Kyoto Protocol was signed way back in 1997.
In the end, it’s about lifestyle choices and if we think our personal sacrifices can save our planet, we should probably be making them. It’s also about the culture of consumption, a culture that constantly asks us to compare our lives to others and follow a comparative way of evaluating our lives and the comforts in it. It is this that deeply disturbed Pag during his travels. True change could happen if we “start to value quality of life over aspirational living standards”, he says. We need to begin, in India, by evaluating the immense damage done by an oversimplification of the climate change-global warming story and the myth that using technology to reduce our carbon footprint is the magic formula to safeguard our future. Pag’s experience debunks the myth and urges us to take responsibility for our choices. Not something we like, but do we have a choice?