" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Is There Anybody Out There?

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines asks human rights groups around the country to rally around those who ask that our environment be saved from the clutches of resource illiterates.

During National Wildlife Week it occurs to me that it is time for human rights groups around the country to rally around those who ask that our environment be saved from the clutches of resource illiterates. Because in my book there is no human right so central to life as that of a child to breathe clean air, drink clean water and eat wholesome food. Without these basics, social justice, equity and freedom are meaningless castles in the air. Looked at another way, those who are responsible for fouling the water of the Thane Creek, or the air in Chembur, or the soil around the BARC complex, are not merely violating pollution control laws, they are violating our basic human rights. Think. If you object to people defecating and urinating on your streets, or smoking in your presence, why allow ten million times as much defecation and air pollution to be dumped on you just because the perpetrators are well heeled and politically connected?

Beautiful Beasts
Paradise in the Wild
The Ocean:Conquest
A Source of Solace
Sighting the Ocean
The Ocean in Verse
Childhood Dream
Hunt for Indian Tiger

Adventure activities
Rock Climbing
Scuba Diving

Leisure Holidays
Wild Life

At this moment in time there are just under 600 pockets of wilderness which receive some degree of protection in India. These large and small pockets have been set aside for protection from industry and agriculture. They are our wildlife reserves. Not coincidentally, they are also perhaps the last bastions for forest-nurtured cultures. This is a fact that human rights and social activists should heed. Outside the wildlife reserves natural India has been mined, damned and ravaged beyond recognition. In the process well over 15 million people have been robbed of their possessions, their means of sustaining themselves and their dignity. Most of them have drifted to our slums.

Silent Valley was saved for the value of its biodiversity, but not one scrap or forest was any human rights group able to save, anywhere in India, for the sake of the many forest dwelling communities which were the original fount of India's culture, religion and civilisation. While saving the forests for the sake of nature conservation, however, wildlifers failed to communicate the rationale for such protection to the people of India. Consequently, the question: "Why waste resources, trying to save wildlife, in a country where people are so poor?" was used as a battering ram by the forces of industry and Green Revolution agriculture to convert natural India to cash. Tragically, many urban activists and human rights groups continue to provide an alibi to exploiters by accepting their postulation that on the road to development, it is inevitable that forests must be converted to `more productive use' than setting them aside for `mere animals'.


I realise that it was because the wildlife flag was being waved by elitist groups in cities that social and human rights activists distanced themselves from the issue of wildlife conservation. What a shame. The wildlife movement was indeed `off the mark' on social issues, but their objective -- to save the forest -- was the ultimate tribal right.

Fortunately, communication between social and environmental groups has now begun to take place. And some home truths have emerged. To begin with while city-dwellers speak of saving forests they actually help destroy the wilderness by leading unsustainable lifestyles. True forest dwellers on the other hand do not damage the forest at all with their meagre demand for firewood and minimal survival needs. Which brings us to that favourite red herring -- India's population problem. Of course we want to keep our numbers under check. But if we urban India cannot see that our waste and consumption has exactly the same adverse impact on our resources and environment as over-population, then we need to have our heads examined.

As a sign of our social awareness, and intelligence, the next campaign I would like to see emerge from the talented Alyque Padamsee, or the banner-waving Nana Chudasama would be one which asks that we buy fewer consumer products, use less wasteful packaging and boycott conspicuous consumption. Why, after all, restrict our enthusiasm merely to saving water and recycling garbage?

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.