Vedic Talk, Western Walk: How BJP-RSS actually ignore Vedic knowledge and are destroying our environment for growth
The tokenism is funny, if it weren't frightening. It's like carrying the Union Budget wrapped in a 'bahi khata', not a colonial briefcase, but arriving in a BMW to do it.
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“Madhu vātāḥ ṛitāyate madhu kṣaranti sindhavaḥ mādvih naḥ santuṣadhi.
Madhu naktamutusāsu madhumatpārthiva rajah madhu kṣorastu suryah mādhirgābo bhavantu naḥ’’
(Prayer invoking divine intervention to bless and protect the environment. Rig Veda, 1/90/6,7,8)
More than 3,000 years ago, all the four Vedas — Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — recognised the importance of the maintenance of the seasons' cycles, likely to get altered because of inappropriate human actions.
It is remarkable that our ancestors of Vedic times regarded nature and the environment in a holistic manner and revered each of its constituents and entities while having meticulous prescriptions for carefully preserving them. The Rig Vedic people had a sustainable relationship with nature. They compared trees to human beings, they prayed to Indra not to separate trees from the forests, which is akin to separating sons from their fathers (Rig Veda, 8/1/13).
The Vṛkṣāyurveda says that planting a tree is as beneficial as having 10 sons:
“Dasakūpa sama vāpi dasa vāpi sama hradaḥ dasahrada samah putro dasaputra sama drumaḥ” (Vrksayurvedah-5). (Today, we would be more gender sensitive, but that is beside the point).
Calm awareness: Our ancestors were in perfect sync with nature. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons))
And yet, for all the harking back to the past we're seeing — and the avowed rejection of western ways, which is the ideological doctrine of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP — where do we stand today and why? The recent loss of biodiversity is unprecedented and at no other time in human history has this loss been as great. Habitats are being lost and degraded, natural resources are being exploited beyond their capacity, pollution is taking a toll on the systems, species that are not native are taking over new habitats, and climate change is threatening the very existence of all species.
Speaking of specifics, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project is a 508-km line that would cost about Rs 1.1 lakh crore, needing around 270 hectares from Maharashtra — which will claim some 53,000 mangroves.
By now, every high school kid knows why mangroves are important, and hopefully, every adult knows what happens when high tides come into the coastline of a city like Mumbai. We also have a fair idea that the bullet train is going to be only for a handful of well-off businessmen who can afford it, and hardly cost-effective compared to the price it will extract, in terms of environmental degradation and the subsequent havoc caused.
Or take the Mumbai coastal road that is being built.
On March 19, 2019, the Bombay High Court questioned the state authorities on how they could begin work on a coastal road project without determining whether it was going to adversely affect fishing communities and breeding grounds for fish along the proposed road. Mumbai lies on 23 major fault lines along the Thane creek, Ulhas river, the Manori and Malad creeks and the lakes that supply drinking water to the city. To the west, a fault line stretches from Colaba to Vasai, touching Malabar Hill, exactly on the route of the coastal road. Meanwhile, one of the last green lungs of Mumbai, the Aarey forest is reportedly being denuded of 2,703 trees for the metro line-3 car shed construction.
Goodbye, green cover? The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project will claim some 53,000 mangroves. (Photo: Reuters)
Given the massive rate at which environmental depredation is taking place and habitats are being destroyed, it is very unlikely that the conciliatory Plant India Initiative of the government is going to produce substantial relief.
Take the Mumbai coastline. Once mangroves are gone, they can't simply be replanted.
Mangroves actually hold the coastline in place, giving it its shape. Once they are gone, the land erodes and tides and currents reshape the coastline, making it difficult or impossible for mangroves to grow back in their former habitats. When mangroves are planted, it is absolutely crucial to plant the right ones. Mangroves aren't a single species — the term 'mangrove' covers the 70 or so species of shrubs or trees that grow in saline or brackish water. Each kind of mangrove is uniquely suited to its ecological niche — the wrong kind in the wrong place won't survive.
After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines' coastal communities, the government committed to planting one million mangroves. Unfortunately, many were planted without regard to getting the right species in the right place — and many of the trees died.
This government, like previous governments, continues to follow a model of progress that is colonial and invasive, that bulldozes everything that it considers 'redundant' and an obstacle to industrialisation.
Brett Bowden explains in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology — Colonialism, Anti-colonialism and the Idea of Progress: "The idea of progress has two related components. The first is that the human species universally progresses, albeit at different rates and to different degrees, from an original primitive or child-like condition, referred to as savagery, through to barbarism, and culminates at the apex of progress in the status of civilization... The notion that different peoples or cultural groups are at different stages of development along the path of universal progress has led some to deem it necessary to try to ameliorate the condition of those thought to be less civilized. This enterprise has variously been known as the 'white man's burden', the 'burden of civilization', or the 'sacred trust of civilization'.
The general aim of these often violent and overly-zealous 'civilising missions' was to ameliorate the state of the 'uncivilized' through tutelage, training, and conversion to Christianity.
Not how the Vedas viewed it: India has forgotten its deeper link with nature in pushing for relentless growth. (Photo: Reuters)
When the RSS/BJP rally against the "West", do they have a clear idea of what it means and how much they are a part of the very idea they claim to condemn?
The industrialist entity we now call the West — and compete with — was layer upon layer created through the exploring colonial nations of Western Europe. The 'civilised' West also came to define itself in contradistinction to the 'barbarians' and 'savages' discovered beyond the European horizon. This process was neatly captured by the poet Friedrich von Schiller in the late 18th century when he writes: "A wise hand seems to have preserved these savage tribes until such time as we have progressed sufficiently in our own civilization to make useful application of this discovery, and from this mirror to recover the lost beginning of our own race."
Schiller declared them the "barbarous remains of the centuries of antiquity and the middle ages!"
That is how our own governments have treated our Adivasis and our forest spaces for all these years — as a work in progress, whose final outcome is to surrender to the mainstream, either by elimination or subjugation, and not entities that deserve to exist as they have, in harmony with their ecologies as part of nature, to be preserved.
No, we readily mouth homages to our Vedas but do not follow them in spirit.
It is a lot like making a big deal of the tokenism of carrying the Union Budget wrapped in a 'bahi khata' doing away with the colonial briefcase — but arriving in a BMW to do it.
(Not to mention the ironic fact that after much ado about that traditionalism, the government proposed more Foreign Direct Investment in media, aviation and insurance.)
Just a cover-up? Going for 'bahi-khata' in the name of tradition is a facade while aping the West. (Photo: PTI)
Make no mistake, the new India is materialist, militarist, neo-colonial and will extract every last bit of juice from her rocks, plants, animals and trees to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the western world. No matter what the cost to the environment or her indigenous people. (The Mumbai coastal road is aspirationally compared to the Pacific Coast Highway in the US). There are also plans to have a road going along the ecologically sensitive coast all the way to Goa that will cut drown travel time to six hours.
We have still got our heads stuck in the colonial, invasive idea of progress and have not moved to the ideas of mutualism and sustainability.
The only difference between the west we pretend to reject and us is that we have so-called godmen in saffron robes fronting for industrial interests — and making it all look like a resurgence of our ancient glory from mythological times.